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

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Completely Inappropriate

This is one of those posts that's probably not going to make it to Facebook.  Which means Joan and maybe two other people will ever see it. (Thank you. Both of you.)  But hey, if you can't have a few stealth blog posts that might offend a bunch of people, what's the point in having a blog?  Actually, what is the point in having a blog?  I haven't figured that out yet and I've been doing it since 2008.  That's a long time to do something for which you don't know the point.  But I do know this; I feel better when I do it. So onward.

I called my mom the other night around ten.  This was a mistake, because if I call my mom around ten I'm probably going to call Rhett or Marcia or Kristen or Kevin around 10:15 to vent about whatever my mother just said (because Joan was asleep), which pretty much guarantees I won't get into bed until 11 and won't get to sleep until 11:30, when my brain winds down, if indeed it ever does.  That said, however, I called my mom the other night around ten.  She said, "I'm glad you called," which is kind of nice to hear, and "Did your aunt send you a Christmas present?" Which is, uh, not.

I have eight aunts.  Four of them are still living and all the same, I knew immediately which one she meant. The one who lives with her, of course. (Insert joke about my father and his two wives here. On second thought, forget the joke.) "Yes," I said, because she had.  A pretty nice one, too. "Well, did you send her a thank you note?"  Another thing I'm not accustomed to hearing, though I heard it when I was, oh, eight or ten.

"Christmas was two days ago, Mom," I said.  "Well, you shouldn't wait.  You should write it the same day you open the present," she said.  "Mom, there's no mail on Christmas," I pointed out.  "Well, there's mail the next day.  You're already a day late." (Yes. She said that. She said that.) "I have the stationery right here on the table," I said, which I was making true as we spoke. "Good, then it won't take you long," my mom said.  "Mom--" I began, and she said, "Yes, I know, I'm still telling my children to mind their manners.  You need to send the note. Immediately."  

So I said I would, and we went off to something else, and 10:15 came and I was already on the phone to Rhett, winding down from that conversation. By 11:45 I was in bed, staring at the ceiling and wondering what the fuck.  And the next morning I did send the note, because I said I would and once I've said I'll do something, I have a hard time letting myself off the hook.  Here it is three days later and I'm still wondering what in hell just happened. I mean, the last time I checked, I was I think about 45 years old.

Why is this bothering me, you might ask.  Everybody's mother has her overbearing moments.  Well, for one thing, there are people who write thank you notes and there are people who don't, and I'm firmly in the former category.  Just ask Joan.  I do a great imitation of my mother when I need her to sign one. People who know me know this.  Second, it was the way she said it.  Not just the being-overbearing part but the lowering-her-voice-and-muttering-into-the-phone-like-she's-trying-to-get-around-a-kidnapper part.  That says, to my discerning ear, that said aunt is right there in the room and she's trying not to be overheard.  Which leads to an inevitable conclusion that I don't like, and that's this: There is no privacy when talking to my mom anymore.  Or my parents in general for that matter.  Anything I tell Person 1 will be immediately known by Persons 2 and 3, regardless of the content.  Which makes it damned hard to find out what someone wants for Christmas.

The other thing that's bothering me is that she was so overbearing.  My mother is not a very touchy feely person, and I'd describe her as "clingy" and "hovering" right after I described her as "stupid" (which she most definitely isn't).  I mean, she's nice, but a helicopter parent she is not.  Unless whatever's going on is somehow affecting her directly.  So what I suspect here, and I'm probably right, is that Aunt was leaning on Mom about the thank-you note issue and Mom, rather than telling Aunt to either mind her own business or ask me about it her damnself, decided that she had to make everything Fine again.  Remember, the Scandinavian household is eternally under siege by the tyrannical army of Fine.  If everything isn't completely Fine, it's the end of the world.  Trust me, I had to tell her I was gay.  Cue the catapults and the battering rams.

In case I haven't mentioned this part in a while, Aunt has something on the Aspergers/autism spectrum. Never officially diagnosed, just kind of obvious if you ever look at a symptom list. One of them is that she'll get fixated on something and won't let it go. Can't let it go, I think now (having listened to her complain about someone smoking on an airplane, back when that was allowed, for eight hours between Atlanta and London).  So if something happened to cause her to think that I didn't get the present, or didn't get it on time, or--whatever, she might have been obsessing for days about when she was going to receive a thank-you note. And just because Mom lives with her doesn't mean she's figured this out, or knows how to handle it even if she has figured it out.

This is not Aunt's fault.  She never asked to be Aspergers/autistic.  She does things sometimes that are completely socially inappropriate, and she doesn't pick up social cues that the rest of us use.  Ferexample, when a topic of conversation comes up that makes someone uncomfortable, other persons in the conversation will usually drop hints that it's time to change the subject, ie, "How interesting.  Fred, so good to see you, how is that merger thing going at your office?" Don't do this with my aunt.  She won't get it and she'll go straight on with whatever the topic was.  If you want her to drop a subject, you have to tell her.  "Aunt. Stop it." Or "Aunt. Drop that subject, please."  Which, if you're me and you grew up in a Scandinavian household in which virtually nothing was ever openly discussed (see Tyranny of Fine, above) seems amazingly rude.  Especially when directed at an older person.

So here are my unpalatable options when something like this happens.  I can just let it happen and tell myself in a Buddhist-y kind of way that I don't have to respond to something just because I don't like it.  I can call Mom back and say, "Um, I'm 45 years old, don't you think that was a little inappropriate?" and see what happens.  I can say to Aunt, "Aunt. Stop it." Which, if you think about it for half a second, really isn't rude. I mean, you communicate with people using the language they understand, right?  And if I, who know she has this Asperger's thing and that certain things just don't compute, find her difficult to deal with sometimes, imagine how total strangers must feel.

(Luckily, she is a pretty good mimic of normal behavior, when she wants to be.  A trick I wish I had picked up somewhere down the line.)

That's a lot of baggage for one stupid thank-you note, but hey, that is just the way I roll.  And whose interactions with their grown parents/aunts aren't layered with decades-old coats of meaning? Anyway, that's my domestic drama for the week.  What's yours? And did you write your thank-you notes yet?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Open Letter To The Massahusetts ACLU

Dear ACLU of Massachusetts:

I realize you guys can't take every case, but would you please take a look at the case of Justina Pelletier? This is a 15 year old girl, currently at Boston Childrens Hospital, whose parents lost custody of her after they were accused of "medical child abuse." The parents, who are Connecticut residents, have been fighting with Boston Childrens doctors about her diagnosis, and whether she is physically or mentally ill (or maybe neither). A Judge recently ordered an independent review of the case.

What really concerns me, though, is that this child has been in a locked psychiatric ward for TEN MONTHS. This is macabre. Only persons who are in imminent danger of harming themselves or others should be in such a restrictive setting. Justina is in a wheelchair and not really in any condition to hurt anyone else. No one involved in the case has said or even suggested that she is suicidal. Justina has civil rights, too, and they can't be taken away just because she is presently in state custody. Even if she can't go home, she should be in a foster home, going to school like a normal kid, having regular visits with her family, even if supervised. If she is too sick to leave the hospital, she should be in a regular childrens' ward, not a jail cell.

Please take a look at this horrid situation and help Justina, if you can. Even her court appointed guardian doesn't seem to have considered her civil right to physical liberty. You are in the unique position to speak for a girl who can't speak for herself. Please don't let her down.

Very truly yours, Jennifer P. Jonsson (Not a lawyer or a Judge or a doctor or in any way related to the Pelletier family or affiliated with Boston Childrens Hospital)

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Medicapalooza

I realize this is getting old, but Joan and I are in the middle of another fine encounter with the world's greatest healthcare system.  In case you missed it, Joan had a tumor removed from her leg, which turned out thankfully not to be cancerous, but the surgical wound got infected, she ended up in the hospital for a week and, you know, it was not fun.  Well, she is on the mend from the infection.  After three weeks they took her off the IV antibiotics. (Thank God. I kept thinking one of those days I was gonna accidentally put an air bubble in that thing, kill Joan and spend the rest of my life on Death Row.) Anyway, she was planning to go to work today for the first time in almost five weeks, but that's been forestalled by the arrival of a kidney stone.

Joan isn't supposed to have kidney stones.  The last time she had one, they went in surgically through her back, vaccuumed out all the other unindicted co-conspirators and declared her stone-free.  Yet, here one is, 8 mm and full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  It's not going to leave the building on its own; it is too big for that.  So guess what? It's time for another surgery!  Monday, 7 am.  Or whenever they get to her.  Meanwhile, she's high as a kite on Norco, still at home and I worry she's gonna call up QVC and order $3,000 worth of miscellaneous plastic crap, or worse, unset gemstones.

And moi? Oh, I'm just FINE, thank you very large.

Excuse me, but it was supposed to be my turn to have a complete meltdown.  I'm the one in all that trouble at work, possibly about to lose my job, having a very entertaining switch from Antidepressant A to Antidepressant B, trying to cope with my out-of-control sugar fixation and having trouble even hauling myself to the pool.  But no.  Sorry, meltdown canceled.  Instead  I have to pull everything together, assume the persona of a mature, responsible adult and Handle This.  Tonight when I get home I gotta lay out all the medical bills, figure out how much we don't have to pay for them and decide who gets paid first, last, and how much.  Not to mention poring through the hospital bill to make sure we didn't get charged $92.50 for plastic light handle covers in the OR and a pacemaker, or something.  I do this at work and I gotta tell you, hospital billing offices are staffed with hundreds of chimpanzees that hammer out random stuff on typewriters in an attempt to recreate the works of Shakespeare. I mean, I could tell you stories but you probably saw the $92.50 light handle covers on your last bill, too.

Anyway.  Joan will be okay.  The kidney stone will be evicted and things will go back to normal, somewhat. Hey, we're past the out of pocket maximum, so we get one surgery for free when paying full price for an adult.  But still.  I feel cheated.  Just once I'd like to be the one that gets fussed over.  If nobody minds.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Two Jews and a Buddhist go to a Catholic funeral...

Yeah, yeah, I know I've told that joke before. But it's a good joke.  Earlier this week, my friend Dick Phelps died.  Dick was a regular at the OA meetings I attended.  He was not doing well; he had emphysema (or I guess they call it COPD these days) and was on 24-hour oxygen, which meant he had to drag this pump around with him everywhere he went.  As someone living with someone who's had a different kind of pump strapped to her, I can say that this is Not Fun.  Anyway, Dick was not doing well, but what finally killed him was appendicitis (!).  He had emergency surgery and as they say, it was all downhill from there.  Dick was 75.

Since I got to Dallas I've been to about seven funerals, which seems like a lot.  I don't think I went to any the whole time I lived in San Diego, except for my mother-in-law's.  There was one I was supposed to go to--was supposed to sing, actually--but as I was getting ready, Stuart Adamson died and I somehow got the news that all that was good and light about the world had just died with him.  So I got back into bed and stayed there for, I think, a couple of days.  And I didn't make it to the funeral.  Call me what you want, just don't call me late for a funeral.

Anyway, I'm driving up to this funeral, which is in the far north of Collin County.  Minding my own business.  As I make the turn to the street that has the church on it, I'm greeted by this:
 Nice.

Then I actually get out of my car, and blasted by frigid winds, make my way across the crowded parking lot.  And here in the courtyard is this:

I mean what is that?  A woman attacked by harpies?  Okay, I'm touchy about my sculpture, and it's a lot better than the ridiculously Disneyfied sculpture at the Episcopal church in San Diego that I had to go past basically every day, but still. (I tried to find a pic of that statue for you, so you could see how it was specifically designed to create a certain emotion just like the crisis moments in Disney films, but apparently no one on the Internet has ever photographed it ever.  Which is just fine.)

Anyway, the funeral part, the part where they actually talked about Dick, was very nice and very emotional.  The rest of it--pfft.  Ann, my Jewish friend who went with me to my last Catholic funeral, thought it was pretty funny that I knew all the songs and prayers.  Well, hey, I used to be a Lutheran, and guess who we ripped off most of our material from?  It's a 500-year-old copyright lawsuit that they're still arguing about somewhere in Wittenberg.  But, yeah.  "Shelter Me, Oh God," "It is indeed right and salutary..." "On Eagle's Wings"...yep, they're engraved on my neurons.  Try reciting some prayers every Sunday for 16 years in a row and see if they don't start to sink in.

 The older I get, the less patience I seem to have with organized religion.  (Which I guess would include Buddhism, but first of all I'm not sure Buddhism is actually a religion--more of a philosophy, a way of life--and second, Buddhism isn't that organized.  That you can take to the bank.)  I know people need to believe something, and getting together in a gang makes it easier to believe that something, but when that something is used to hate other people and tell them they're wrong, it just doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that God would condone (if He existed).  Once, when I was a kid in the Lutheran church (I think I was maybe about thirteen), the pastor was on an anti-Communist rant during his sermon for whatever reason.  I am not by any means pro-Communist (you could probably call me a casual socialist)  but this rant had gone way beyond sermonizing and into viciousness.  So I started to stand up (yep, in church) to interrupt the pastor and ask him where he was getting this stuff.  I was immediately grabbed and restrained by family members.  I'd like to think that was all about being mortified in public and not about agreeing with the ranting from the pulpit.  Anyway, I'm Over It now. (sniff)

So the funeral ended.  Food was served.  I knew half the people there through OA (and there were maybe like three hundred people there, so that was considerable).  We ate, we swapped Dick stories, and that part was pretty nice.  I will miss Dick.  He was a good guy.  And I will miss that hour and a half of my life I won't ever get back.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Glasses, Horror, Particle Physics and Book o'the Decade

It's official: We are living in the Jetsons era.  I still don't have a flying car (Detroit's working on it, right after they finish filing for bankruptcy) but I have just done something unprecedented in the lives of modern human beings.  I have ordered glasses through the Internet.  Not sunglasses but actual glasses.

Seriously, I don't know if they had a parade when this service first became available but if they didn't, they should have.  The only thing worse than shopping for glasses is shopping for shoes.  (And no, I've never successfully ordered shoes from the Internet, but if SAS ever makes them available, it'll be time to break out the credit card.)  By the time I've eliminated all the frames that won't work with my prescription and all the ones that are butt-ugly, I'm usually stuck with one, maybe two choices, both of which make me look like a librarian.  And there's nothing wrong with looking like a librarian if you are one, but I'm not one.  The last pair of glasses I got new made my boss's boss call me "Darth Vader" for a week.  (Or was that the temporary shades I had to sport because I had posterior iritis?  I forget.)  Anyway, I was able to pick out a nice pair with plastic frames and springs, with a scratchproof coating (I've had bad experiences with those, but hey, try and try again) and UV protection for only about $150.00.  That's cheap, when we're talking about glasses.  I believe my last pair was about $250.

Anyway, that's one of the danger of ice storms: Online shopping.  Never mind traffic accidents and frostbite and ice-laden trees crashing through your roof: Beware Amazon.com.  You can't leave your house without risking a fall on your butt (I've fallen twice now) so you stay in your house, and if you have a credit card and an Internet connection, the siren call of merchandising is hard to ignore.  Especially this time of year, when you must express your love for your fellow beings through lots and lots of commerce.  If Christmas gifts were good enough for Baby Jesus, they're good enough for everybody else on the planet.  So bring it on.  Let's go to Wal-Mart and get Maced over a cheap Blu-Ray player.

That said, however, I also bought a book for my Nook.  (I love my Nook.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love my Nook?  I love my Nook.)  Barnes & Noble shells out a free Nook book every Friday, and often they're not that interesting but sometimes they are (ie, Kameron Hurley's "God's War," which, at least for me, created a monster). Last week's selection wasn't particularly interesting, so I bought a different one: Edge by Koji Suzuki.

Koji-san is known as the "Stephen King of Japan," but that's kind of a misnomer.  His books are scary but they're suspenseful first and, if I may say so, cerebral.  Koji-san is responsible for Ringu, remade in the U.S. as The Ring and starring Naomi Watts--one of my top five horror films and one which scared the pants off me, broke my heart and scared the pants off me again. (And there I was outside the theater, just after midnight, waddlin' around with a broken heart and no pants.)  So naturally I would be curious about Edge.

Unfortunately, it suffers from a rather clunky translation.  I'm of the opinion that if you're translating something from Language A to Language B, Language B better be your native language, and you ought to be able to write a little, too.  Because seriously: "Life in the name of all things that have shells separating them from the outside, the ability to sustain and reproduce themselves, and the capacity to evolve." (Page 356.) Is that even a sentence?  Given the fact that one of the main characters is a publisher who specializes in translations, the clunky language is doubly ironic.

Apart from that, though, this is a hard book to put down.  It starts off slowly, like Japanese books sort of always do, but then it picks up speed until you're struggling to keep up with it, turning pages as fast as possible.  (Or clicking pages, in my case).  Mathematicians across the world are discovering that, inexplicably, the value of pi has changed.  The value of pi, by the way, is used for calculating everything from the radius of a circle to the mirrors on the Hubble Space Telescope.  If pi has changed, then there's something fundamentally wrong at the quantum level.  And it doesn't help that large numbers of people--from whole families to about a hundred people visiting a public garden--are disappearing without a trace. Throw in weird phenomena like a giant chasm suddenly opening in the earth in California and you can see how we might have a serious problem.  But what is that problem?  How did it start?  Where did it come from? What's going to happen? And on a planet where the only thing we've been able to do at the quantum level is start a nuclear chain reaction, how in hell are we supposed to fix it?

Truth to be told, we've done quite a bit of research at the quantum level (which is all about subatomic particles and how they move around and behave; not only are they unpredictable but they seem to move when they know you're watching them).  We know, for example, that since atoms are mostly empty space, it should be theoretically possible to put your hand through a solid wall.  The fact that for the most part, we can't is one of the great mysteries of physics.  And get this:  All these subatomic particles moving around seem to create time itself, and time theoretically should move backward as well as forward on its trek.  So why don't we have memories of the future?  Well, I'd posit that some of us do, and at the end of Edge, it seems that some of us not only remember the future, but act on it.  And about that I'll say no more because Edge has not just one but two twist endings.  I'm not the easiest person to surprise, but I never saw either of them coming.

So anyway, Edge by Koji Suzuki.  Book o' the Decade.  Check it out. And stay warm.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Mini-Post: Buddhist In The Bible Belt Quoted on CNN!

Not for writing a bestseller, or anything, but for griping about other people's annoying behavior.  Which is about as un-Buddhist-y as it gets.  Here's the link. Scroll down to Most Annoying Reason No. 2.  Yep, Jennifer Jonsson is me. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

(gr) Attitude

”All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.” ~Buddha

It's that time of year. The planes start flying and all thoughts turn to dead birds and for what you're grateful.  I don't do my family Thanksgiving, but I still get together with a group of friends and muse about how lucky we are to live in an environment that's relatively undamaged (since we're exporting our ecological damage to China) and where most of us have jobs (that pay next to nothing and provide only minimal benefits).  And while I cling to Joan, who's the most important person in the world and for whom I'm eternally grateful, I have to tell you that I reached a new nadir in my fabulous career as a paralegal.  I'm afraid that not only are things not getting better, they're getting worse instead.

Yes, I've been taking my meds.  Yes, I'm seeing my doc again on Monday.  He says to trust him, which I do.  But if I were anyone else I'd have thrown up my hands in despair by now and taken a job herding cats, or maybe artificially inseminating rhinoceri.  I wanna pound my head against the wall, I wanna shake myself and say, "What the hell is wrong with you?" More important than that, I just want this whole thing to be fixed.  It's a damn good thing I'm a Buddhist, because if I were any other faith I'd have missed the part where Buddha said, "Don't trust your brain.  It will lie to you."  (Or words to that effect.)

Losing control over your own brain is terrifying.  Terrifying and frustrating.  Two years ago I was one of the star performers at the firm.  What was different between now and then?  I go over and over this.  Over and over this.  I haven't figured it out yet and I feel like I'm running out of time. But I keep trying.  I'm seeing this guy (a psychologist, not a paramour--sorry, I'm really not all that salacious) who's helped me come up with strategies so I won't get behind and manage distractions better.  The second I get to work I strap a notebook to myself (it's on a passkey tether) and put a pen in my pocket so I can write down anything and everything that comes up.  I'm even using Evernote, though I probably could be using it better.  And I have rules for when to do what, and a chime that rings every hour to remind me to stay in the moment.  I hang around after hours and sneak in when we're closed to catch things up.

And I don't wanna give up.  Well, some days I do, because something else has gone wrong and I'm tearing my hair out and wanting to scream because what in hell was I thinking  and I can't remember and more important, can't understand (or, for that matter, make myself understood).  But usually I wanna keep working until they pry the keyboard from my cold pre-retirement fingers.  I wanted to be this particular lawyer's last-ever paralegal, work for him until he decided to retire and then retire myself because there wouldn't be any point in continuing without him.  I think he's going places. I think he will do great things.  I think he deserves the best support possible.  I gave him that two years ago.  I feel like I can give him that again.  But when?  How about now?  Is now good?  Hello?  Universe?

Oh, and I got into a car wreck (!).  On the way home, somebody rear-ended me on the freeway.  It was just a stupid accident.  But I gotta tell ya.  This is, I think, my fifth collision and still, that incredibly loud bang has been following me around and giving me the creeps for a day and a half.  I was in a Really Bad Collision thirteen years ago (in the same car, no less), where a guy ran a stop sign right in front of me and I T-boned him.  I had nightmares and flashbacks to the collision for about six weeks.  Well, Jesus God, I could have killed the guy.  I managed to crank the wheel hard enough that I kind of slid into him sideways instead of hitting him head-on, which kind of broke up the force of the collision, as it were, and distributed it over more of the car. So we both lived.  Anyway, this morning I had a crystal-clear flashback to that wreck (I still remember it, like a movie) and the sound of the brakes and the incredibly loud bang. And I'm like, now? Really?  I need this now?

(See previous blog post.)

Anyway.  You can't trust your brain.  It will lie to you.  This is not a collision from 13 years ago, this is a minor fender-bender on the freeway, the kind that happens every damn day all over Dallas.  I am not hopelessly incompetent, I am just having a very hard time at work for some reason.  It's not my brain deteriorating past the point of usefulness, it's just the drugs, and we'll get the combination right and everything will be fine.  So that's my pre-Thanksgiving complaint.  And I'm not grateful. I'm just stubborn.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody, and try to be more grateful than I.  Because right now I suck at it.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Uh, Now? Really? Right Now?

So Joan's in the hospital.  For those of you who missed the beginning of this saga, lemme catch you up.  Joan had a tumor on her leg, and the docs thought it was a thing called a lipoma (a fatty tumor) but because it was growing so fast, there was a decent chance that it was a liposarcoma.  Anything in the medical world that ends in "sarcoma" is usually Not Good, so they did the surgery pretty quickly.  And the tumor turned out to be a lipoma--a nuisance, but essentially harmless.  It was one big one with budding little ones, and that was a bit strange, but anyway, there was no "sarcoma".  So that was good.

Then, about two and a half weeks after the surgery, the wound site--which was healing fine, though it was a bit swollen--started turning red and unhappy lookin'.  Back to the doc we went.  The doc took one look at it and said, "Okay, I'm admitting you to the hospital."  The lack of "sarcoma" notwithstanding.

That was last Wednesday.  Joan's been in the hospital ever since.  That's--let me see here--six days in the hospital.  I've been going to work, going to the hospital, then coming home and crashing into bed.  Today I finally did the effing dishes and made up the beds with clean sheets.  And now I'm sitting here writing this because my brain won't wind down.  

Have you ever noticed that when it rains, it pours?  The best possible example would be 2001.  In a span of three months, the Twin Towers fell, a guy in my church choir died, Joan's mom died and Stuart Adamson died.  I mean, I'm sure they all didn't plan it that way (except maybe Stuart) but I had just started to crawl out of a crippling depression and by that December I'd turned around and crawled right back into it.  I wouldn't really be back to normal for another couple of years, during which I made such a mess of my life that when Joan made the first suggestion about moving to Texas I said, "Great, how long will it take you to pack?" instead of "Where? Isn't that near North Dakota someplace?"

And since the universe really listens to me when I tell it these things, let me just reiterate that I don't need my wife very sick in the hospital when I'm trying to a. keep my job and b. not go crazy.  Okay? Okay? Hello? McFly?

That's the thing about being me.  It's like I'm Oklahoma.  Most of the time I'm fairly peaceful, running a casino in a small town in Durant County, but then suddenly the sky darkens and this tornado rips through everything and destroys jobs, friendships, mortgages, relationships.  Tornadoes are entities unto themselves once they really get going, but they need supercell thunderstorms to set them off.  In 2001, three people I cared about dropping dead in a matter of weeks was the supercell. And the Twin Towers thing didn't help.  (By the way, I have no idea if there's actually a Durant County in Oklahoma.  I just think there should be.  The man got the railroad built, didn't he?)

In case this isn't obvious, things are just Not Going Well at the moment.  Not going well at work, not going well at the house (though we got the first part of the major plumbing repair done, for less than we thought it was going to cost, and even managed to squeeze in a new water heater as part of the deal).  Not going well here on the old laptop, with my writing group, with swimming and with being alive generally. I'm pretty sure I've already heard the tornado warning sirens kick on a couple of times, but then, maybe not.  Maybe they were false alarms.  Anyway, I feel like I'm sitting here in a weather tower, watching one hell of a big supercell start to rotate not all that far away.  And wondering if there's anything I can do to keep it from sucking (pun intended).

But, as my doc keeps reminding me, everything's different now.  I'm medicated, I'm meditated, I'm surrounded by good friends and I'm Doing All The Right Things (except for hitting the sugar, and I'm doing that pretty hard).  I'm not drinking anymore, I'm not a member of a Lutheran church filled with easily-ruffled feathers and my options for getting into trouble are somewhat limited.

Plus, there was that moment on the freeway where I was hurtling toward the hospital after a ridiculously long day at work and getting more and more upset at the way things were going when suddenly it occurred to me that if I couldn't stay calm in this situation, of all situations, I did not need to be calling myself a Buddhist.  And I like being a Buddhist.  Even if you have to stay calm through some pretty hairy moments.  Like tornadoes.

The thing about tornadoes is, you can't really predict them.  You can say, "Oh, yeah, conditions are perfect out here," and then watch a supercell rotate all day and do jackshit nothing.  Or you can think this is just a little spring shower and suddenly the alarms go off.  So if you can't predict them, the best alternative is to duck into a well-built underground shelter while one goes by.  Which is the equivalent of staying calm in a catastrophe.  Yes, even in Durant County.  If it exists.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Mini-Post: Still In Free Fall...

...but it's possible that my silly parachute might open after all.

For those of you who missed The Blog Post That Cannot Be Posted, let it be known that just in general, things sucked rocks.  And they still do, but there are cautious signs of improvement.  I still have a job, and we're still making the mortgage payments.  We still have a huge plumbing repair but we got the first half of it done for a lot less than we thought we'd have to pay.  Joan had to have surgery on her leg, but the tumor turned out to be benign.  So a whole lot of the end-of-the-world crises du jour seem to be working  out. As they almost always will if you let them alone for long enough.

Last night I called a doc I used to see a looooooooong time ago, when I lived in Arizona (what was that,the early 1990s?  Good Lord, I think it was.)  After I ran my assortment of symptoms by her, and detailed my cornucopia of pharmaceuticals, she said it sounded like at least two and maybe three of the drugs I'm taking aren't working,  She wants to remove this and add that, lower this and maybe not take that anymore. She wants me to go on FMLA for two weeks to accomplish this. (My firm's too small to be covered under FMLA, but especially if we wait until December, I can probably do it.  Basically nothing happens in the legal field between December 20 and January 3, anyway.)

So now I gotta get all this verified by my Main Doc, but if she is right, then all I've ever been is depressed. And I have been depressed before. One would think I would know the symptoms by now, but I don't.  Didn't, anyway, this time. I associate depression with feeling mopey and sad.  Feeling hopeless and devoid of all life is a different thing entirely. The manager kept telling me I seemed like a whole different person, though.  Aha, perhaps now we know why.  Does depression affect one's competence at work?  I guess it might.

And so, as I sit here at Afrah with a tablet and a keyboard, an akkawi pie and a milkshake that escapes being a milkshake because technically it's an "iced cappuccino", I am reminded once again that I have a frick'n serious medical condition.  One that requires constant monitoring, maintenance, meditation and medication. And fewer afternoons sitting in a cold living room watching plumber guys move back and forth with their hands full of PVC pipe and stranger things. Yeah, I know.  I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Blog Post That Wasn't Posted.

Oops, you can't read it because it's not here.  Well, there are reasons for that.  If you didn't already get an emailed copy, comment with your email address and I'll send it to you.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

I Got Nothin'.

Oh, of course I got somethin'.  I always churn out a blog post while I'm sitting here at Afrah, munching on pita bread and drinking lemonade while I type--usually very fast--on my laptop or my Nook. (Tonight: Laptop. And the fingers were happy.)  I just sometimes don't know what I'm going to come up with until I'm already here.  I went looking for an update on the Alicia Beltran case, but I couldn't find anything.  Not sure there's even a hearing set.  Now that the government's reopened, there's no point in airing my plan for all the furloughed employees to march into Washington armed with, I dunno, brooms and mops and stuff and shutter every single restaurant and pizza-delivery location within 10 miles of the Capitol Building.  (That'd be interesting, watching John Boehner chow down on a PBJ he'd made in his kitchen that morning.  Or that his houseboy made for him, more like.)  And I guess I could brag that @rubenagency favorited my tweets about how much it must suck to be a literary agent and have to actually READ all those hundreds of earnest letters that arrive from aspiring authors every day, but since I kind of had him in particular in mind, it's not that far of a stretch.  

Then, on the way here, the DJ on 98.7 gives me an idea: Misquoting Shakespeare.

People, you can take the English major out of Arizona State before she Makes the Big Mistake and goes to grad school, but you can't get the Bard out of her head.  No way.  Nohow.  Never.  It's too late by then.  And the next time I hear somebody say "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" or "Money is the root of all evil," I'll probably blow a blood vessel.  I mean, I get it, okay?  When you make that statement about killing all the lawyers, it sounds really cool, and hip, and, I dunno, reactionary, somehow.  But when you throw in the context and realize that the guy who said it, Dick the Butcher, was saying it to impress the rebel Jack Cade, and that Jack wanted to break down law and order and create chaos where there was once a civilized society so he could crown himself King, well--not as hip, is it?  In fact, killing all the lawyers starts to sound like a bad thing.

And "Money is the root of all evil"--puh-lease.  Numero uno, the quote is "The love of money is the root of all evil,"  which makes a lot more sense in the context of the story that follows.  Numero two-o, that's not even Shakespeare.  It's Chaucer, you illiterate moron.  Chaucer died about 160 years before Shakespeare was even born, and left us with the Canterbury Tales and a lot of other weird stuff that's written in Old English and is harder than hell to understand.  Fun when translated, though.  Also, Chaucer was to literature what Michelangelo was to painting and sculpture.  Chaucer's original plan for the Canterbury Tales assumed he'd live at least ten thousand years and be writing right up through the last day of the last one.  Unfortunately, he died at the age of 46, like a lot of people did in his time.  

Speaking of the love of money, I would love some money.  In fact, if somebody wanted to give me an Ativan, a cup of very strong hot chocolate and, oh, money, that would be awesome.  (I'd settle for the hot chocolate.)  Last year, we were clobbered with a new roof (our share: $3,500.00), new pipes under the house ($3,700.00), a new transmission thingy (I never know the names of these thingies; just how much they cost.  This one was $2,500.00), a washing machine, a stove/range, and I forget what all else but none of it was cheap.  And yeah, we had a savings account, but had. Past tense.  Is gone.  And unfortunately, it's not like life's little disasters stop pouncing on you just because you are broke.  

Take the pipes under the house.  Please.  Seriously; we had a leak in our new pipes, and when the guy came to fix it, he told us that we had a Serious Problem with our sewer line that went out to the city system.  As in, dig it up, yank it out and put in a new one.  Cost:  Around $7k, not counting however much it costs to stay at a hotel for a few days because we don't have water.  Well, that was a fascinating conversation.  Then a few weeks ago we had another leak, another guy came out, and told us we had an equally Serious Problem with the water pipes that came in from the city system.  They, too, need to be dug up and replaced, and the price just went up to $12k (maybe only 11 if we have both that and the sewer line done at the same time).  Apparently the new pipes under the house are having trouble holding on to the old pipes that come and go.  The fault lies in the old pipes, which, let's face it, are pushing 60.  

For the record, we only paid $94k for the whole house.

So I guess I'm, I dunno, getting a Saturday job or something.  Maybe I'll turn tricks on Harry Hines Boulevard.  Maybe I'll use my exacting knowledge of chemistry to make the best crystal meth in the DFW metro area, and it'll quickly become popular and sell well and--

Hey.  That'd make a good TV show.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Buddhist Quotes The Bible

"And [Jesus] said: 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'"

--Matthew 18:3

Some of you guys may not know this, but I used to run with a Lutheran street gang. Went to Sunday school for ten frick'n years, thankewverymuch, and two years' worth of Confirmation classes before the Big Day.  Comes in handy when I want to argue with Fundamentalists, which I don't do much of these days, and for cultural subreferencing, there's really no substitute (except maybe Greek mythology; Kellum and I can debate that sometime and y'all can vote.)  

But I will admit to a completely ridiculous fondness for the book of Matthew.  This is Jesus at his most awesome and quotable (outside the gospel of Thomas, which, oops, you haven't read because it's not in there. Gosh.) This is the story, as well-told as you're going to get outside of the Nag Hammadi Library. This here's he temple of the money changers, the triumphant ride into Jerusalem, the dark days before the Crucifixion and all the wild stuff that happened after. I mean, it'd make a good movie (oh, wait, it did).  And it's full of quotable Jesusness that, when pondered, often lead to entirely different meanings than the ones they taught you in Sunday school. (Twelve years.  Twelve years. And it didn't take.  Truly, I'm ill.)

Let's take St. Paul, for example.  No, he's not my favorite example, just the first one I thought of.  In one of the letters to Thessalonia he says something like, "Suffer a woman not to teach, but to remain silent in the church."  For centuries this line has been used to shut women up when they had problems with how a church was run, and was probably the justification to shut women out  of the priesthood. But if you read the context, and consider who the guy was talking to, it sounds a lot more like he's saying, "Men (he's talking to men), don't expect your women to lead in the temple; what with raising your kids and keeping you dressed and fed, they have plenty to do already.  Time to man up and be the leaders you're supposed to be."  Yeah, not exactly a popular sentiment there.  But that's what I get out of it.  It doesn't make St. Paul any less of an ass, though. 

Back to our friend Jesus.  I have no problem with Jesus. Guy was cool. Long haired radical, wanted his followers to do what was right instead of what was popular, scared hell out of the ruling class and coined the phrase, "Get thee behind me, S*t*n." Jesus is still all right with me. (Oh yeah.)  I just happen to be a Buddhist, is all.  

So I saw this sculpture today of Jesus and the little children and it suddenly hit me, like it sometimes does totally out of context and with no warning, that our collective understanding of Matthew 18:3 is totally wrong.  We assume Jesus meant that in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven when we die, we have to have faith like little children believe in Santa Claus, I guess.  Be totally convinced with no evidence whatever that God loves us and will see us on the other side.  But I thought, Hey. What if Jesus isn't talking about after we die? What if he's talking about the way we live?

Bear with me here because I'm gonna get all Buddhist-y on ya.  There are Buddhists, and I are one, who would tell you that heaven and hell are right here.  We create them every day, and every day we decide which one we are going to live in.  (And, to some extent, which one we're going to create for other people.) In the simplest terms possible, heaven is the present moment.  Heaven is when we are so focused on what's going on right now, right here in front of us, that we forget about the mortgage payment and the dress for Dinah's wedding and those 15 pounds we need to lose.  When all we experience is the cute baby who's making faces at us or the pretty lady in the copper-colored skirt or the taste of hot Starbucks coffee on a rainy day.  You know. Totally absorbed.  Like little children.

And hell?  Well, hell is--all those other moments.

Take right this second, for example.  There's a pretty lady next to me in a  copper-colored skirt - well, copper and black, actually.  She's Indian and the skirt looks fantastic on her.  It's light cotton but there's a lot of it and when she moves it seems to fly along around her.  I'm not wishing I had a skirt like it or despairing of ever being as pretty as her or thinking that I need to go clothes shopping.  I am admiring the skirt.  And I am (gasp!) happy.

Yeah, it only lasts a second.  But so what.  There"ll be another one.  Yep, here it comes; fat giggly baby, chewing on her fist and making faces and waving.  And then I'm back into this blog post, which it feels like I've been working on for days now.

If you're a Buddhist, this is what you're shooting for.  Not isolated moments of being mindfully absorbed in whatever you're doing, but being mindfully absorbed in whatever you're doing all the time. I don't know anyone who's been there, though I hear Thich Nhat Hanh has done it.  And once, at work, I had a moment where everything suddenly sharpened in color and the living beings all kind of glowed a little and I started laughing because the whole world had always been that way and I just hadn't ever noticed it before. And I kind of thought, "Oh, is that all?" and then it stopped happening and I am not describing this very well, but anyway, it was nifty.

I bet Jesus felt that way almost all the time.  I think if he were still around, he would look at us like we were crazy and say, "Guys, the miracle isn't me.  The miracle is that all of you can do it, too." 

Which is why you meditate, people.  And if you don't, you can always start.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Somebody Find Toto

Well, ya cain't say I didn't warn ya.  It was on this spot right here, only a few short months ago, that I told you what would be happening after pregnant women were banned from all the big cities.  Being caught in a metropolis with a bun in the oven will lead to an immediate charge of felonious breathing, as I think Margaret Atwood would call it.  Or reckless endangerment through inhalation of toxic gases.  Imagine, having the nerve, the unremitting gall to walk through New York or Boston or San Francisco, while pregnant, and knowingly inhale air known to be toxic to fetuses.  No different than Utah's skiing-while-pregnant ban or Florida's preborn human sun exposure law.  Nope.  We're having no more of these scandals.  I'm sorry, but that's it.  We're just gonna send them all to Kansas.

Why?  Because pregnant women are irresponsible and only take their own selfish feelings and demands for liberty into consideration.  Because in spite of all the scientific evidence that says women only exist as containers for preborn babies, there's always one or two that have to hop up and down and squawk about their "personhood" and their "rights."  Because Kansas is the only place that's safe.  Sorry, everybody in Wichita and Topeka and Olathe, but you're going to have company.  A lot of it.  For the  next nine months.

Think of it.  Millions of women packed onto Greyhound buses without a nay-say or maybe as soon as that little stick turns blue.  Shipped from around the country to the safest state in the Union (unless there's a tornado).  No skiing, no surfing, no sunbathing, no sex or drugs or alcohol.  (Well, there is that little crystal meth problem, but we'll get rid of that; we'll just jack up the sentences for possession and manufacturing and everybody'll be scared and, you know, just stop making and selling the stuff.) Nine months of perfect safety for the fetuses and their containers and then all the babies will be born healthy!  And that's what we want, isn't it?

Ah, perhaps you think I exaggerate. Or perhaps you think I'm off my proverbial rocker.  Well, you could be right about that second thing, but I'm afraid I am not exaggerating.  Take a look at this lawsuit, recently filed in Federal Court by the National Advocates for Pregnant Women (and ponder, for a moment, why we even need such an advocacy.  Get back to me on that, will you?) Go down to the first orange link on the page.  Then read that sucker.  Yes, I know it's fifty-odd pages long. Read it anyway.  If you're anything like me, you won't be able to put it down.

Brief recap of the facts:  Alicia Beltran, a woman and, by definition, a human being, sought prenatal care at a local clinic in Milwaukee.  She confidentially told the doctor that she had been treated for prescription drug abuse and had been taking Suboxone, a pain medication.  She'd stopped taking it because she found out she was pregnant.  A few days later, five policemen came to her house and arrested her.  She was handcuffed, shackled and taken to a court hearing that she knew nothing about. An attorney had been appointed to represent the interests of her 14-week-old fetus.  (I am not making this up.  It's all in the lawsuit.  Go back and read it again.)  There was, however, no attorney appointed to represent Alicia Beltran, the living, breathing, already born woman.  With no testimony from any medical experts whatsoever and with Ms. Beltran not allowed to speak, the judge ordered her involuntarily committed to an inpatient drug treatment program two hours away from her family.  She has been a prisoner there since July 13, 2013.

Now, let's consider this for a second.

It is not illegal to take a prescription drug.

It is not illegal to refuse medical treatment.

It is not illegal to seek another medical opinion.

It is illegal for a doctor to release information about a patient without that patient's consent to a third party.  The law that governs that kind of conduct is called HIPPA.  It is also highly unethical for a doctor to release information given to him or her under the doctor-patient privilege, which is what happened here.

It is illegal to use intimidation or threats under color of authority, such as sending a social worker to someone's house and threatening that someone with losing custody of her children, to get that person to do something that you want. It was illegal for the doctor to send the social worker out there and it was illegal of the social worker to go.

It is very very illegal to kidnap a woman from her house, haul her away in chains, and lock her up someplace.  Yet somehow, Alicia Beltran needs a Federal lawsuit to get her out of a situation that never should have happened in the first place.

I can hear some of you thinking.  (Psychic powers.  I has 'em.)  And what I can hear some of you thinking is along the lines of "But what if she relapses and goes back on the drugs?  That would be bad for her baby, so it's better if she stays locked up until she gives birth."

Really?

Really?

Okay. Let's try this.  Somebody grabs you off the street, shackles you, throws you into a car, drives you to what's obviously a prison and surrounds you with police officers.  After several hours you finally get into what looks like a courtroom and there's a judge and you think, "Oh thank God, now we can clear up this mix-up," because obviously there's been one, right?  And then the judge winks at the guys who kidnapped you and says, "It's okay, boys.  She's pregnant."

Guess what.  Illegal behavior is illegal behavior whether the victim is pregnant or not.  Kidnapping is illegal,  Being addicted to a substance is not illegal.  Trying to quit the addictive substance on your own, without some nice rehab counselor holding your hand every step of the way, is not illegal.

No one ever offered any evidence that Alicia Beltran was using drugs.  No one tested her for drug use.  No one, as far as I can tell, even bothered to ask her, "Hey.  Pop any Suboxone today?"  Even if they had, though, that wouldn't justify anything that happened.  Again, being a drug addict is not illegal.

In fact, the law treats pregnant people and nonpregnant people almost exactly the same way.  There are a few exceptions for pregnant people who are under 18, but not many.  It is legal for a pregnant woman to drink.  It is legal for a pregnant woman to go skiing.  It is legal for a pregnant woman to go skydiving, go Rocky Mountain climbing, go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu.  And it is illegal for a pregnant woman to do drugs, only insofar as it's illegal for anyone else to use drugs.

Believe me, if we could outlaw stupid behavior, we'd need enough prisons to fill the entire state of Texas.

It burns me up that more news agencies aren't following this story.  Why CNN and NBC aren't pounding on the doors of Casa Clare, demanding to speak to Alicia Beltran.  Why isn'lt Amnesty International protesting outside on the sidewalk? Where's the ACLU, when you really need them? Why aren't sixteen helicopters circling that rehab facility 24/7, demanding to know what the hell is going on? Because the last time I Googled it - 30 seconds ago - I found one story on Reuters and it was under a headline about Democrats and the shutdown.

Well, I intend to make some noise.  Do what I can to get some attention.  Send this blog post to people I know who will give a damn and might even write about it.  I may be a Buddhist with a Nook at a table at Afrah, but by God, you don't want to piss me off. I type mean when I'm mad.
 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Fair's Fair

So it's October in Texas.  The brief pause between the blast furnace and the deep freeze, that rare time when windows can be opened, screen doors actually have a function and nobody has to dress in layers to go to work.  (Except Joan. Sorry about  that, Joan.)  Spooky decorations start to show up in windows -- you know, Santa Clauses, reindeer, credit card offers.  And out there in Fair Park, that shining Art Deco jewel of weird 1920s buildings and half-naked silver sculptures, it's time once again for the Texas State Fair.

What can I say about a place where you can get fleeced seventeen different ways in two hours for the low, low admission fee of $17?  Where you can stuff yourself with things like deep fried Oreos and Cuban sandwich rolls and then yark it all up on a roller coaster or a pirate ship or maybe a Tilt-A-Whirl? Where you can go to a football game (It's Texas, people. Football is the state religion.) see a band, marvel at arts and crafts, and check out everything new in the raising of steers and chickens?  I mean, you gotta go.  If you live within 200 miles of Dallas, you need to get out here and take a look at--well, everything, basically.

I go, and while I can't always say I enjoy myself, I certainly have a time.  This time around, I was accosted by a guy who was hawking some kind of emollient wrinkle cream.  I mean he literally grabbed me by the arm and started slathering this gunk on me, talking a mile a minute about what I used to hide my laugh lines (whatever those are).  I was able to extricate my arm by telling him I'm allergic to just about every cosmetic ever made, and that if I started breaking out in hives  from his skin cream I'd have to sue him, everybody who looked like him, his firstborns down to the seventh generation and the ugly woman standing there in the booth, whoever she was.  Oh, and I didn't buy any of the skin cream, either.

We were out of the exhibit hall and headed toward even more trouble before I realized something rather remarkable had just happened there. We got into a confrontation, we extricated ourselves from said conversation, and while a few harsh words were exchanged, nobody got hurt.  There was once a time, and it was not that long ago, when my first instinct would have been to deck the guy. And I'm thinking, since he assaulted me first, that I might have even gotten away with it.  But who wants to spend their time at the Fair explaining Texas's self defense laws to generally clueless security guards and sheriff's deputies?  If they wanted to be lawyers they woulda gone to law school.  Anyway, I'm clearly a menace.  Arrest 'em all and let Judge Judy sort 'em out.

Which brings us to the only subject allowed in America at this time:  The Government Shutdown.  Sorry, we don't care about aliens landing in Mexico or cold fusion discovered in the Nevada desert.  Even the fossils in Africa that conclusively prove we are genetic remnants of Bigfoot are gonna get two inches under "Dear Abby."  It's all about the shutdown.  The government has malfunctioned and we can't find Control Alt Delete.

When you think about it, this is about as silly as it gets. One side is still legislating a bill that was passed three years ago, went to the Supreme Court, passed, and is mostly in effect. The other side is intransigent, but then I think it's earned the right to be.  Because what it's standing for, basically, is the lives of millions of people.  Lives that  might be cut short, or will certainly suffer in quality, if they can't access quality medical care.

That's what this is about.  Let's just let that sink in for a second.  One side wants to get  people access to quality health care, and that outrageous notion has shut down the entire government.

Look, I don't care who you did or didn't vote for.  Take a look at this situation and tell me how I should see it any other way.  One side wants to block poor people from getting health care.  Oh, sure, they can go to the ER, but that's no substitute for quality medical care from a physician who knows your history.  Oh, and the ER is incredibly expensive.  Who's going to pay for it? Us.  We can't afford Obamacare? Okay, how do we afford the billions of dollars in unpaid hospital bills every year? Seriously, explain it to me.  I'll listen.  If you sound like you know what you're talking about, I'll even run you as a guest post.

But good luck with that.  Because even the Republicans I know are embarrassed by what's going on at Capitol Hill.  It's about poor people getting quality health care.  And the people opposed to that, I guess, just would rather the poor would, I dunno, up and die already.

Monday, September 23, 2013

See, There's Yer Problem

I've only been to Denver twice.  The first time I was a kid.  Well, an older kid, pushing 18  and checking out colleges, but still, a kid.  My dad and I checked out CU Boulder, and it was quite the little adventure.  We went to a restaurant that served shrimp cocktail like some Mexican places serve chips and salsa (naturally I'd remember the food, yeah, I know).  And there was a pillow fight on the airplane.  Remember when there were pillows on airplanes?  Oh, and we checked out the college,  too.  And I ended up not going there, which was fine.  If I'd gone there I'd have graduated with a huge amount of debt, like everybody else, and one of the few things I did right, financially speaking, was to get out of college scot-free.  (I wonder what the Scots think about that expression.)

Anyway, in Boulder, you're right in the Rockies.  I mean you're right on the side  of them.  But to get to Boulder, you have to go to Denver.  And I remember landing in Denver and looking out the window at the Rockies, which are some distance away and covered with haze, and thinking they looked like something out of the Lord of   the Rings and wondering when Frodo would show up, holding a ring and looking seriously tired.  Then there's my more recent trip to Denver, which took place, uh, today.  And I landed at the airport (different airport) and looked out the window (same old round window) and I could hardly see the Rockies.  I mean, forget being covered with mist.  They were just like not even there.  And I realized it wasn't  "mist I saw the first time, but smog (Smaug?), and if Frodo was going to show up with a ring, it was going to say "Standard Oil Co." on the inside instead of "Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Put This On."  (That's what it said, right? Only in Elvish?)

Which brings us to the subject of peak oil, global warming, hydrocarbons in the atmosphere and, oh, the end of life on Earth.

See, hydrocarbons in the air, besides being ugly and bad for us, are also bad for lots of other living things.  They trap heat, which makes the overall temperature of the planet go up. It's already gone up about .6 of a degree Celsius since the mid-1800s when we started burning oil.  This is important, because most scientists think that we can only afford to let the planet get 2.0 degrees Celsius warmer than it was then without risking major weather changes, coastal flooding, desertification of farmland (which is exactly what it sounds like) and plenty of other things that wouldn't be any too pleasant.  And all of which would damage crop futures, cause the commodities market to crash, drag the stock market down with it and create financial chaos and mayhem on a global scale.

So, again, we're already up .6 of a degree. Also, all the hydrocarbons we've put into the atmosphere to date, even if we stopped today, will raise it another .6 of a degree. So we have .4 of a degree left, and that means we have to stop burning oil, coal, natural gas and every other fossil fuel you can think of by...2028.

Yep. About 15 years. And here's yer problem with THAT.  Oil companies don't have value because of the oil that's in the tanker ships, on its way here, or the oil that's in the pipeline and is on its way to the port of Riyadh. (Does Riyadh have a port? Somebody get me a map.)  No, that stuff's already paid for. Oil companies have value because of the oil they'll be pulling out of the ground next  year, and the year after that.  It's called "mineral rights."  Mineral rights go with the land they're attached to, and they're sometimes much more valuable than the land itself.  Tell oil companies that they can't pull any more oil out of the ground after 2028 and not only do they  go after you with every lawyer they can find, they lose value so fast that they race the stock market to the bottom.  And there's financial chaos and mayhem on a global scale.

But: If we let the oil companies pull the rest of that oil out of the ground, and burn it all, we'll raise the temperature of the planet about 10-12 degrees Celsius.  And that would be an extinction level event--for us, anyway.

I've more or less got the whole global-warming denial thing figured out.  It's really pretty simple.  For one thing, it looks like an unsolvable problem. So if you don't believe that temperatures are rising all over Earth, or if you believe that they're rising but it's not the fault of humans, just a natural process, then you don't need to change anything.  We can go blithely on, doing exactly what we're doing, and everybody can continue to make money and there won't be any financial chaos or mayhem. Er, until  the desertification and the global flooding and so on.  Which will happen after we're  gone, so that's okay, and anyway, technology will solve all of our problems.

Uh huh.

But: We have until 2028. Wind power, solar, nuclear and so on aren't practical right now because oil is still so cheap, but if we took that 15 years and developed  those technologies, we could bring all of them online when we need them.  Individually none of them will be enough, but together they might be.

Course, we might need to lower our standards a little. Have one car instead of three. Commute by train instead of driving. Change our cities so that we live close to our jobs, so we can walk to the supermarket.  In short, live more like they do in Europe and Japan. We could throw in socialized medicine, too, while we're at it.

We have time.  We just need to do it.  So we don't have to look back at our kids and grandkids when we're 75 and answer the Big Question, "Why did you do this to us?" with something like, "To make a quick buck."  Because, honestly, that's a lousy reason to destroy a nice habitable planet.  They're kinda rare, ya know.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Out of the Closet. (And Into the Freak Box.)

Well, this was bound to happen sooner or later.  It's hard to keep a secret from people you work with every day.  Besides, four can only keep a secret if three of them are dead. And I made it through three and a half years, which is considerable.  But the cat's out of the bag, the classified file is open on the desk, the skeleton  just came bumbling out of the closet. And so did I.  It's been a long strange trip, but I'm Out At Work now.

No, I didn't tell them I'm gay.   They know that. I told them I'm bipolar.   THAT they had no idea.

I might add I did this Against Medical Advice.  Well, against some medical advice.  Not every bipolar person/mental health professional subscribes to the same magazine, but the General Agreement among my gang of friends is that One Does Not Tell One's Place of Employ anything they don't absolutely need to know.  And honestly, I wasn't planning to tell anybody anything, until either my symptoms became obvious or I needed a Reasonable Accommodation of some sort or other. [Reasonable Accommodation.  Remember that phrase, kids.  Your workplace doesn't  have to do everything it can to make your life easier if you're disabled, but they do have to be Reasonable.]

See, last year at Christmas I got a glowing employee review.  Seriously.  Glowing.  I think it was mentioned that I needed to work on my prioritizing and try not to get sidetracked quite as much as I was, but other than that, Employee of the frick'n Year.  Practically.  And I got a nice raise and a bonus.  Well, I just got another employee review and it wasn't nearly as glowing.  Not nearly. My boss said he was basically having to micromanage me, that I seemed to have no idea how to prioritize my work, that I'd lost track of all my cases and lots of other stuff you don't want to have written about you when your job is to be conscientious, accurate, thorough and, well, manage lots of stuff. Not so much people but stuff.  Information.  Items.  It's hard to do that when you're not prioritizing, being micromanaged and you've lost track of all your cases.  Tends not to be good for your clients, either, and since the clients are the only reason  you exist, well...

Now, I could go through this review point by point and argue with a lot of it, but there's really no reason to.  And I can't complain that it was a news flash because it wasn't. For the most part it's true, and for the most part, it all stems from the same source.  That part of my brain that's just a little bit more interesting than most.  Practically every single darn thing on all three meticulously typewritten pages is a symptom.

Which leads me to wonder, why now, and why didn't I see this coming?

Well, I'm not sure about the why now, but I did see it coming.  Have seen it coming for a couple of months, in point of fact.  Look, I've been ridiculously lucky. And I had this idea that as long  as I took my meds when I was supposed to and did everything my doc (s) told me to do, I'd be Perfectly Normal.  Alas, I am not and never will be normal. I wasn't even normal when I was normal.  And, yeah, things happened that could have alerted me that all was not well.  But I guess I didn't know they were this bad.  Or were getting this bad.  But fundamentally, it doesn't matter why this happened. What matters is how to fix it.

(That's always my first instinct.  Fix it. I heard an appropriately September 11-themed story about a mom who, on that day in 2001, was watching TV and crying, like many of us were.  Her four-year-old daughter came in and asked her what was wrong.  Not wanting to lie to this child, but not really able to convey what had happened to a child that young, she said, "A lot of people have died.  It's a very sad day."  The four-year-old said, "I'm a big girl, Mommy. I'll fix it."  Yeah. That sounds like me.)

 Anyway. I saw Doc#2 yesterday. He can certainly help Fix It.  Changing behaviors is kind of his specialty.  I see Doc #1 tomorrow, to see if something medicational needs to happen.  And in the meantime, I experiment with alternate strategies. I make lists.  I ask a bunch of what seem to be stupid questions.  I  try very hard to get more sleep. And I try not to let down the side at home, because according to Joan, the symptoms of whatever-this-is are showing up there, too.  What she said was, "It's like you're more and more willing to just let things slide."  And in the name of clean cat boxes, that can't be good.

The hope, here, is that things will improve enough by December that I can get back into the Good Employee box, even if I also have to reside in the Freak Box.  And that the news of my Delicate Condition doesn't spread beyond the manager and my immediate boss.  I know, I know.  Four can keep a secret if three are dead.  Hopefully I won't deck the first well-meaning fool who asks me, "It's not like you're Napoleon, is it?"

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Postmodern Traveler's Almond Gelato Diet

You guys, I'm sorry I'm not doing a better job with this blogging thing. My Thursday nights keep getting absconded with (with which get absconded?) and it's darn hard to get away from my desk some days. Still, I do show up, which is something, and I have fond hopes of getting back on a regular Thursday night posting schedule. I just have to figure out which  day is Thursday. Not the easiest thing in the world in a short week when you're also jet-lagged.

(Yes, I know the time difference between here and Utah is all of one hour. It doesn't matter.  I'm jet-lagged, I tell you. I didn't get to sleep on the flight home because of the screaming child behind me and I'm an hour and a half behind now. I'm not sure how I will ever catch up, though sleeping all day Saturday sounds like a good start.)

So, yes, I spent the long weekend in Utah with my folks and my sister. Which was actually pretty cool.  Like we used to do when we were kids, everyone was on their best behavior and we all played nice together.  Only one thing went catastrophically wrong: The baseball game.  I forgot I hurt my back recently and that stuffing myself into one of those little plastic chairs for 3 1/2 hours was probably not the world's greatest idea.  I'm very sore now, despite my  massage therapist meeting me at my house practically the second I got home from the airport. (No, you can't have him, but his Web site is here.)

So I get back to the office and everything promptly explodes. Well, not literally, but ever since I started taking  one of those wonder drugs that work wonders, my short term memory has been Having Issues. I've tried to build in all these fail-safes to remind me about this and that, but for some reason they took this week to all crash and  burn at the same time.  So I've been yelled at a couple of times (and one of them, at least, was not my fault, either) and I got into a tiff with the assistant manager that actually led to my complaining to the manager.  (Yes, you read that right.  I complained about something. And yes, that was the earth you heard cracking asunder.)  So I have not had the world's greatest week.

To top it off, the other fat person in the office announced that she was Going On A Diet. I managed not to say, "What? You want a medal?" or something equally sarcastic, but really, do I need to know this? Does anybody, besides the person and his/her doctor? Why do people announce this stuff?  To me, it's only a little less obnoxious than announcing, "I've just been diagnosed with syphilis and boy am I hungry." What you eat, or don't eat, really isn't anyone else's business.

Yep, I am not big on Dieting as a National Sport.  I realize women use this sort of chatter to bond (James Bond) with each other, but I won't do it.  Can't do it, in point of fact. I keep thinking how it's all some sinister plot, to keep us distracted with calorie counts and food plans while they busily take away our rights to safe abortions and birth control.  Besides, if we all lost weight and disappeared, there would be no more women and then they could take away all our rights with no outcry whatsoever.  Don't tell me Governor Goodhair hasn't at least thought about it.

By the way, I posit that Governor Goodhair is a psychopath. The only symptom he doesn't have is the criminal record, and all that means is that he hasn't been caught.

Anyway.  I know things will improve. I'll get everything caught up at work and get all the fail-safes back in place (just in time to be gone two days for my cousin's wedding).  I'll get the blogging back to a regular schedule for my legion of screaming fans (both of you).  And I'll snarf down a cup of almond-flavored gelato at Afrah when nobody's lookin' and give the dieting industry a sloppy El Birdo.

Oh hey, here's a little cup of almond flavored gelato.  Bloody marvelous.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

First-World Marriage and Untitled Cars

Alert: This is the first blog post composed wholly on my Nook.  Yep, its a keeper.  I bet you didnt know that Nooks could compose blog posts. The typing is slow going because I am still getting used to the itty bitty keyboard but other than that, it is working fine. Which may spell the end of hauling my laptop around and, not coincidentally, my ceaseless quest fora new laptop case.   Hey, can somebody show me where the apostrophe is on this thing? Otherwise Im going to sound like Data. (Why no, sir. I cannot.) If you dont know who Data is, ask someone. I am given to understand that he is fully functional.

Last Thursday, Ramadan officially ended. This is significant, because yours truly is prone to hang out in a certain Muslim-owned restaurant. This is my first Thursday back in the booth, so to speak, and between my tiny keyboard and trying to remember how to wrangle pita bread, Im having an interesting time of it.  That, and the space bar on this thing seems to be stuck. I really have to whack it to get it to move. Ah, first-world problems.  In real life, Im here, the pita bread is here, someone a few booths back is speaking in fluid, almost lilting Farsi and I just found the damned apostrophe. I feel better than I have in days.

Sometime between the North Texas Tour and the hauling of a big branch off my lawn after a rainstorm, I managed to hurt my back. So the last couple of weeks have not been fun.  It's an annoying 4 gusting up to the occasional 6 on the pain scale, and while Advil helps, it does not solve the problem.  Luckily, I have a really good massage therapist, because otherwise I'd, like, have to seek actual medical help or something.  Don't ask me to go to a chiropractor.  I won't do it.  I've been to three chiropractors and had three miserable experiences, culminating in the last genius, who left me for 45 minutes, with my pants off, hooked up to a machine in a room with three burly  Mexican laborers (who all had very good manners and didn't look).

I thought I was on the mend, but apparently this is a trick with back injuries--make you think you're all better when in fact they're just getting warmed up. I have, however, made it through this entire work day with no Advil.  That doesn't mean I enjoyed it at all, though. When I get back on the stuff I will try to do 600 mg instead of 800. Just for variety.

So how am I, anyway, you ask.  Well, I guess I'm okay. Apart from the back, that is. I just Made the Big Mistake - that is, bought a ticket from Delta Airlines - and am going  to see my parents and   my sister over Labor Day. My folks don't know  how  lucky they are to  live  in a Southwest Airlines part of the world, where you can fly around for next to nothing on an airline that is not inherently evil.  Oh, I can do the same here in Texas, and the contiguous states, but not outside. Utah and Arizona are outside. So the trip to Salt Lake that would cost $400 on Delta or American costs $677 on Southwest. That's a hefty premium  for flying bags free.

Then I have a cousin getting married in September. I've already RSVPd Yes, so I better show up or  Shelley will probably kill me.  There are two options. I can fly to Fargo and stay in a hotel, like a normal person, or I can fly to Bismarck and hang with my parents and my aunt and uncle, who are driving to Fargo and back. If there's room for me, that is, which I don't know, and if they want me to show up, which I also don't know. It's cheaper to fly to Bismarck than Fargo.  I thought about flying into Bismarck and out of Fargo but that was even more expensive  than, say, a Southwest Airlines ticket. Almost twice as much as merely flying to Fargo.  It's the little dilemmas, by far, that are the most annoying.

Take retitling our car, for example.  We paid off Sloth, our red Saturn, three years ago, approximately. We should have applied for a new title then. Every now and then I remember that we never applied for a new title and print out the form from the Texas DMV Web site. And then I remember why I never filled it out and signed it. Because at the bottom is this little section where you  have to state whether or not you're married. Under penalty of perjury, no less.

Uh, hello? State of Texas? I have enough moral dilemmas already, okay?

It's not just an academic question, either.  If you're married, you don't have to pay this extra tax to get a new title if something God forbid happens to your spouse.  You get a new title free, or almost.  If you're not married, you have to pay the tax, plus swear up and down that you're not married to anyone else (even though this is Texas and not Utah). So it behooves you to be married in this particular transaction. And, of course, we are married.  In California.  And the Supreme Court never really settled the question of whether or not we're  married anywhere else.  The Feds consider us married, but one doesn't register a car with the Feds.  Unless one lives in D.C., and we
will move to D.C. when I can pry the Texas house key from Joan's cold dead fingers.

So how do I sign this stupid form? I either lie about being married, or I lie about being married in Texas.  Or I toss the form in the trash and forget about it for another year, which is the pattern so far.  It won't really become an issue until we either sell the thing or God forbid one of us gets in an accident and the insurance company totals it out.  But it's a lot of paperwork and hassle at a not-very-good time.

(Sighs, rubs forehead) First world problems.  Okay, to close out this blog entry we have two options.  A terrifying article on global warming or George Carlin's spot-on lament about modern manhood.  You kids enjoy one or the other while I try to figure out my state of matrimony.  Oh, and what to get my cousin for a wedding present. Is Waterford crystal too overstated?

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Trans-Texas Tour

Hands up, who thinks that it's way past time Jen blogged about the Trans-Texas Tour.  Yeah, that's what I thought.  I barely got back to Dallas before everything slipped into fast forward, so sorry about the delayitude there.  But hey, I'm here. You're here.  Joan's here (hi, Joan).  Let's do this thing. 
I love this light effect.  That's Mike Peters with the halo.
To begin with, I'd never been to Austin. Or Houston. Or anywhere south of Conroe, for that matter. And I  don't know why Conroe, in particular, it's just as far south as I remember going.  So driving down to Houston was the first and most significant part of the adventure.  Did y'all know there's this giant, ridiculous statue of Sam Houston on the side of the freeway near Huntsville?  For, like, no apparent reason.  I'm sure it's historical and a big tourist draw and all that but it reminds me of carving Mount Rushmore next to Interstate 101 and just like leaving it there, without bothering to tell anybody who the faces are (not everybody recognizes those guys, you know) or why you carved them there.  

Yeah, the blazing sun there kind of ruins this photo, but it pretty well
captures what the Austin show was like. 
Let me put this another, less polite sort of way.  I hated Houston.  Hated it.  It's a great big megalopolis that sprawls all over the place, with octopus arms reaching out to Galveston and Clear Lake and South Padre Island and a bunch of other places I don't know the names of.  It's about 99% humidity 99% of the time.  The people we encountered were shockingly rude, for Texans.  We got there just before rush hour, which was an obvious mistake, and our route took us right through downtown, which was another obvious mistake.  I never thought I'd say this, but the drivers in Houston are crazier than the drivers in Dallas, who in turn are crazier than the drivers in L.A.  Not kidding.  I may never look at the 75 North Central Expressway the same way again.  

Luckily, we weren't going to be there for very long.  I hooked up with Tammy and Tracy, and the three of us headed for the club while Joan went for a well deserved nap.  As venues go, I guess it could have been worse, but the very Houston-ness of Houston was seeping through the walls.  There were three opening bands, each one more irritating than the last, and by 11:15 I was getting heartily tired of everything.  The rumor was going around that Big Country wasn't even there; something had happened to their bus or their equipment van or both, and they were somewhere in Kansas, looking for Toto. Just before 11:30, somebody started playing Flower of Scotland on a Gibson Les Paul and suddenly there they were.  Two old guys, two new guys, and Mike Peters, who's been around forever, but since he's new to the band he doesn't really count as an old guy or a new guy. 

The story, as we found out later, was that the bus had survived the trip from Aurora, Colorado that day. (What idiot tour manager would think Aurora, Colorado to Houston, Texas in one day was even remotely reasonable?! Boys, fire your tour manager. I'm just sayin'.)  But the air conditioning on the bus had not.  Fourteen hours on a bus with no air conditioning.  I just can't even.  And the equipment van hadn't made it to Houston yet, so the band ended up borrowing equipment from the other bands.  (Prompting one hilarious moment when Mark Brzezicki, who's 6'7", sat down behind the drum set and his knees came up around his ears.  Oops.) 
Big Country avoiding the eau de Houston.
In spite of it all, they put on a fantastic show.  And I'm not just speakin' as a die-hard fan here; Tammy and Tracy both agreed that they were worth the wait and even, wonder of wonders, worth enduring the three bands that came before.  And yours truly ran into Bruce Watson (the lead guitarist) on her way back to the car.  (They'd parked the bus right next to us.) I ran over and tapped on his shoulder.  "May I kick the tires in your honor, sir?"  "You can blow it up for all of me," he replied.  Fangirl moment! And me without a grenade.  

The next morning we hauled off to Austin.  Night, meet day.  Day, meet night.  Austin--wow.  What can I say about Austin?  Well, Austin was everything as cool and funky as Houston was sprawly and el barfo.  For one thing, there was a huge demonstration going on at the Capitol. (See two blog posts ago.)  Joan suggested that we maybe skip the Capitol tour, seeing as if I was in jail I'd miss the concert. (She knows me too well.)  Fifth Street is a long series of increasingly weird businesses, from head shops to curanderas to garden shops to ordinary 7-11s.  In between, small apartments, funky condos, rundown crack houses and an occasional unprepossessing concrete block.  Oh, and a concert hall.  Well, lots of concert halls.  This one was a couple of streets down from the Capitol building, which loomed over the whole scene like a pro-lifer with a big canvas--okay, never mind.  

Let's move on.  There was only one opening band in Austin, and thank all the stars and little fishes, they were actually good.  It was 103 in the shade and the concert was outside. Yours truly managed to give herself heat exhaustion bouncing up and down on the patio.  I drank three bottles of water but plainly that wasn't anywhere near enough.  I almost fell asleep at the wheel on the way back to the hotel, and several times the following day on the drive back to Dallas.  Yep, ol' Jen isn't 20 anymore.  

Best part about the whole thing:  It's obvious that the band was having the time of their lives.  Which is a good thing, because I've been in a band and I can honestly tell you that if you don't love it, it will kill you.  Look, I was on the road for all of two days and I almost dropped dead; the band had been out there for five weeks.  Yes, they had guys to carry their stuff, but still.  Besides, I (along with lots of other people) thought that Big Country was dead and buried in 2001.  To see the band come back to life, with such an explosion of sound and energy, is just--just--I ain't got words.  I got pretty emotional. And Mike Peters might be just as good a singer as Stuart Adamson.  No disrespect intended to Stuart, of course.  

Midafternoon Sunday, we finally made it back to Dallas.  I staggered through the doorway and tried to decide if I should collapse on the couch or walk another ten feet to my bedroom.  I was that tired.  There was another show in Dallas that evening, but I didn't make it.  As I was saying, I'm not 20 anymore.  And Big Country has moved on--but they promised they'd be back.  I'm holding them to it.  Stuart would have expected nothing less.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Mini-Post: The Way of the Long Distance Fishy


Those of you who glanced at your calendars and noticed that it's July, and remembered that July is Swim For Distance Month over at Dallas Aquatic Masters, and who further remembered that I, Jen, raise money for charity during Swim for Distance Month every year, thank you.  Both of you.  You rock.

Everybody else: July is Swim for Distance Month over at Dallas Aquatic Masters and I raise money for charity during Swim For Distance Month.  Okay, now that we're all caught up:  Regret to inform that I'm not going to do it this year.  Raise money for charity, that is.  I got a late start and it hasn't been going well, so I'm going to just concentrate on surviving the month.  I swam five days in a row last week and boy was I sore. I usually break up swim days with gym visits.  But between a case that's ramping up for trial at work, and the Trans-Texas Groupie Tour after the World's Greatest Rock Band, I've missed almost an entire week.  That's almost six miles I can't get back.  That, and the only charity I wanna raise money for right now is Pro Choice Texas and that's, well, a little polarizing.  (Evidence:  Not a single response to the last blog post.  Either I scared some people, or nobody wants to offend me by disagreeing with me.  Oh, wait, one response from my uncle Bob, who agreed with me.  Thanks, Uncle Bob.  Not for agreeing with me but for responding.)  

So here's what I suggest.  Decide on a favorite charity and send them ten bucks.  You can tell them it's in honor of Swim for Distance Month or you can leave that part out.  I'm sure they won't care.  If you're the gambling sort, bet the ten bucks on whether or not I make two thousand meters in the Big Swim, which I enter every year and I'm still gonna enter because I'm crazy like that.  If I do it, the charity gets the ten bucks.  If I don't do it, then you send the ten bucks to Tea Party America or the John Birch Society in my name and put me on their mailing list for life.  A guy I used to work with at the TJ Library threatened me with that once and it was quite effective at keeping me in line.  I never stuck a piece of book tape on his back again. (He set the alarm off thirty-seven times.  It was effing hilarious.)

And just cause I missed his cute li'l face, I'm bringing back the Long Distance Fishy.  There he is at 1200 meters.  I'll post a total count soon.  Probably after I get back from the Trans-Texas Groupie Tour after the--yeah.