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


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:

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  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.