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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

HAPPY EVERYTHING, EVERYBODY!!


Christmas 2014.  God bless us, every one.  (Says the Buddhist atheist.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Saga of the Office Plant

Sorry for the lack of blogitude lately.  It's the time of year.  Silver bells and snowmen and walking in a winter wonderland and all that.  Actually, this being Dallas, the weather's been a lot like spring.  It only got seriously cold in the last few days and the odds of snow are kind of remote.  Dallas is persnicketty like that.  One year it snowed six inches on the first day of spring while on Christmas it was 76 degrees and sunny.  I blame global warming.  And our weather guy voted for Mitt Romney.

Speaking of great seismic shifts in the fabric of reality, and my boss told me the other day that he's giving me more work.  He said that's the problem with doing a great job.  You do a great job, they give you more work.  It's fine, though, really, except that one of the cases goes to trial in three weeks and nothing, and I do mean nothing, is ready.  I'm frantically paging through my project management books over here to design a critical path and a PERT diagram so as to get it all done. (Project management stuff is great.  I'm giving serious thought to going back to school long enough to pick up a certificate in PM.  It couldn't hurt and it might help a lot.  There's just always so much going on.)

To really get an idea of how the new job is going, though, you'd have to talk to my plant.

This plant--I call him Robert and he sings a mean baritone--and I have been together for a long time.  Since about 2007, which is a long time for a plant.  A vendor gave him to me and he's been on my desk ever since, getting bigger, shooting out little baby plants and just in general providing greenery.  I think he's some kind of ivy but I don't really know.  What I have figured out is that if you water him once a week and keep his leaves trimmed, he makes a fine, if quiet, companion.

Robert Plant has seen it all; late nights and early mornings, crazy bosses and great big ugly deadlines.  And lots of ordinary days.  So I'm kinda attached to him, if you hadn't figured that out.  When I finally got my new desk, which took three or so weeks (there's a lack of desk space at this job, but it's getting better). I brought him in from home and put him in charge of the front counter space.  Then Monday came and I took him down to water him.  And that's when all the trouble started.

Robert's planter doesn't have a drip catcher.  I'm not sure why; maybe it was flawed from the beginning.  My MO for watering him has been to put the whole plant in a trash can and water him there, so that any drips run into the trash can.  Great idea, but the first time out of the box at the new job it flat out didn't work.  I put the plant into the trash can, expecting it to catch on the rims, and instead it slid all the way down and got stuck.  Kind of like when a glass bowl that's just the right size accidentally slides into your garbage disposal and--yeah, you can't get a grip on it to get it back out because--yeah.  So Robert's stuck in the trash can and I'm stuck trying to pull out the lining in hopes of jarring him loose.  Instead I tear out the whole lining by accident.  The plant stays right where it is.

There's an obvious solution to this problem, isn't there?  Unlike the glass bowl stuck in the garbage disposal, you can turn the fricking thing upside down and dislodge the plant.  Right.  Except that the plant's full of high-grade expensive dirt and it's a nice carpet, as industrial carpets go.  So I hunted down a box, took everything out of it and tipped the garbage can over into the box.  Er.  It didn't work.  Well, I mean, the plant was dislodged, all right, but I flat out missed the box and ended up with high-grade expensive dirt all over the underside of my desk.

Oops.

Okay, I cleaned it up as best I could, and that night the janitor came in, probably scratched his head a few times and then vacuumed the rest of it up.  (Hey, I could be a vampire.  I need the native soil of my homeland under my desk or else I shrivel up or something.  It's possible.  I do work nights sometimes.)  And that was my first day at my new desk with my plant.

See above re: project management.  Yeah, there's a certain bitter irony to the whole thing, isn't there?
Well, anyway, if I don't blog before then, happy everything, everybody.  And have a blessed New Year.  And if you bring a plant to work, make sure he has a drip catcher.  Maybe I'll get Robert one for Christmas.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What Happens in Phoenix...Part II

Aha! You foolishly thought I'd only write one blog post about our thrilling experience flying to Phoenix!  No such luck. After all, we'd only just managed to get to Phoenix.  We still had to get back.  And why it should be any less interesting on the return trip, I have no idea.  Neither did the travel gods, who for some reason just didn't care for us this time around.

I might add, though, that the time we spent in Phoenix was fine.  We hung around with my parents, sister and other relatives, went to an amazing museum (the Musical Instrument Museum in Scottsdale; definitely check it out if you're ever in the neighborhood) that I had to pry Joan out of with a crowbar, and caught up with some of my friends.  But getting there was not half the fun.  Getting back wasn't very good either.

For the record, I am firing myself as staff travel agent.  Not only did I get us a flight out that required us to catch a Wonder Shuttle at four o'clock in the blessed morning, I got us a flight back that changed planes in Albuquerque.  Flights that change planes need to be avoided like the plague.  Any time you change planes, you multiply the chances that something can go wrong.  And given a chance to go wrong, most things will oblige, at least occasionally.  So we need a new travel agent.  Applications are being solicited through this blog.  All applicants must be marginally sane, understand Expedia.com and believe, as we do, that all airlines are evil, though some are more evil than others.  Okay?  Okay.

Moving on:  Our flight actually arrived in Albuquerque about ten minutes early, and it also showed up at the gate right next to our next departure gate.  This meant that not only did we have time to buy a sandwich, we also didn't need the nice wheelchair guy that showed up to help.  Unfortunately, I'd bought a sandwich in Phoenix, assuming that we wouldn't have time to buy one in Albuquerque.  So we had this slightly smashed roast beef sandwich to share, complete with soggy bread and smears of what looked like salad dressing on the outside of my purse.  Oh well.  It was pretty tasty anyway.

Upon arriving in Phoenix, though, we had a problem.  No ground transportation.  Joan called Wonder Shuttle, which told her to wait until we'd picked up our bags and then call back.  We got the bags (or rather, I got the bags - note to travel agent applicants: I'll still get the bags.  It's why they pay me the big bucks) and Joan called Wonder Shuttle again.  The dispatcher guy told Joan they were "having trouble getting drivers to return to the airport," so it would be 30 to 45 minutes before they could pick us up.

Mind you, they knew we were coming.  We had to give them our flight numbers and all that when we booked (and prepaid for) the ride.  Why they were now telling us, close to midnight at the end of a very long day, that they couldn't pick us up for close to an hour made absolutely no sense.  And what were they doing, in the 15 minutes between our first call and our second call?  Playing "Tetris," apparently.  Or maybe something ruder that can't be typed into a religious-type blog like this one.

Anyway, spending 45 minutes standing outside in the dark and cold at Love Field, which isn't exactly the wisest place for a pair of women to hang out alone at night, wasn't high on either of our lists.  I had some money left, so we basically said "fuck it" and grabbed a cab.  And as always happens when we grabbed a cab, we took our lives in our hands.  Not since we whipped around the statue of Benito Juarez in downtown Tijuana on two wheels have we had such an entertaining high-speed cab ride. I dunno what the speed limit is in Highland Park, but we probably blew through it by about double.  In between clinging to the lord help me Jesus bars inside the cab and covering our eyes as we careened through red lights, Joan said, "Why don't you call Wonder Shuttle and ask for a refund."  I said, "If we survive this, I certainly will."

We reached the freeway and were forced to slow down to around seventy miles an hour.  I called Wonder Shuttle, told the annoying voice-automated system that I was requesting a refund, and got the dispatcher Joan had talked to before.  "Hey," he said, "I think I can have a van to you in about ten minutes."  "I'm sorry," I told him,  "We're already in a cab and gone."  He transferred me to a supervisor, who apparently was supposed to talk us out of it. Out of what?  Out of being in a cab and gone?  

Ponder this:  I had only very recently been asked if I was sure I was in Phoenix. Now somebody was trying to talk me out of wanting a refund.  I don't normally handle situations like this very well.  All the same, I didn't blow up and I didn't tear this guy's head off.  I just used my Best Paralegal Voice to tell him, "We were told 30 to 45 minutes.  That's unacceptable at this hour, so we got a cab.  And we'd like a refund."  My Best Paralegal Voice must still work, because he said, "Okay, that'll take three to five business days."  By the end of this sentence, we were in our driveway.  I think the hyperspace thrusters on this cab were kind of warn out.

Anyway, we made it home in one piece, I didn't yell at anybody and nothing disappeared from either of our suitcases, except Joan's grey robe, which thankfully reappeared.  So all's well.  Sort of.  Except for needing a new travel agent.  Again, I'm screening resumes.  The salary's not great, but the benefits are pretty cool.  Er, or so I hear.

Friday, November 28, 2014

What Happens in Phoenix...

...doesn't exist, evidently.

Lemme splain. No, is too much. Lemme som opp.  Joan and I flew to Phoenix to see my mom and dad for Thanksgiving. Or at least we tried to fly to Phoenix.  Things started going wrong the second the Super Shuttle showed up. It never would have occurred to me that now, in the Common Era 2014, they might not be disabled accessible. But the guy showed up, and he had a van that could only be reached by climbing up into it. Fine for me but not for Joan, who's been hobbling around with a cane for the last couple of weeks. Bad knee. And bad foot. And sometimes both a bad knee and a bad foot. Anyway, after three failed attempts, we finally put her in the front seat, with both me and the Super Shuttle guy giving her a mighty push from the rear.  Mission accomplished, but I had no idea how I was going to get her back out again.

Matters did not improve once we got to the airport, either. Yes, we got Joan back out of the van (gravity is your friend), but the ticket agent had a problem with us.  See, we had three tickts and only two human beings. This was beause we were flying on Mas Barato Airlines. Mas Barato is a fine airline, but if you look like you're too large to fit into one of their 16" seats (which covers a lot of tall people, as well as fat people), they've been known to pull you out of line and make you buy another seat on the spot. Especially if you're a woman (there was a lawsuit about this).  We buy three seats together, which means we get a row to ourselves. It's a whole lot easier to just buy the extra seat when you book the flight, but we never, and I do mean never, get through the airport without a lot of hassle when we do this.

In this instance, the ticket agent couldn't get her machine to print us a boarding pass for the third seat. She had to call her supervisor. 25 minutes later she was still on the phone, saying things like "The what screen?" and "What's that? I've never heard of that." Joan, meanwhile, had asked for a wheelchair, but none had ever shown up. She headed off to the ladies' room right around the time the boarding pass had finally printed. By now, we had about 15 minutes to make the plane.

I took the boarding passes and sprinted for the ladies' room, where I caught up with Joan and where, by some miracle, the wheelchair finally caught up with us. The TSA let us go through the wheelchair line, which was a lot shorter, and the wheelchair took off running on the other side while I was still putting my shoes back on. I ran like the hounds of Pink Floyd were at my heels, but I didn't catch up until I got to the actual gate. By then they were wheeling Joan down the jetway, and we collapsed into our private row just before the doors shut and the engines roared to life. Whew.

Okay, we're on the right plane and it's going the right direction and all should be well from here on out, right? Um, no. After we got to Phoenix, we got an email from the airline that since we'd failed to show up for our flight out, they were cancelling our flight back. Now, I like Phoenix, but I had no intention of staying there, so I called Mas Barato Airlines to find out what was going on. After i'd told my story to successively higher-placed supervisors, I finally got one that seemed to know what was going on. At least until she asked me, "Are you sure you're in Phoenix?"

Am I sure I'm in Phoenix. Ponder that for a moment. Existential questions aside (how, for example, does anyone know they're really in Phoenix?) that was something I'd never considered before. I mean, maybe I was in Hawaii. Lots of sun, lots of sand. Maybe I was in Aruba. Jamaica. Bermuda? Bahama? Anyway; I said the first thing that came to mind, which was "I beg your pardon?" And she repeated it. "Are you sure you're in Phoenix?" Honestly, don't they teach you to listen to your own questions in customer service school?

Well, I finally admitted to being sure I was in Phoenix, since, uh, I actually was in Phoenix (or Chandler, if you want to get picky).  And another long silence followed, after which she told me that the originating airport had blah blah blah something technical, which had caused blah blah blah something else technical,and in other words they were blaming the computer. But, no harm no fowl, we still had reservations to fly back to Dallas. Which was all I really cared about, so I let the rest slide. But I wonder what's gonna happen when we get to the airport to fly home. Maybe they'll ask if I'm sure I'm at Sky Harbor. Or worse, Albuquerque.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mini-Post: Another Newbie

No, not me.  I've already started my new job (and it's going pretty well, apart from the stress level, which is mostly me).  Joan!  Seems the Library has a position as a "social media librarian", and last year they hired someone for the job.  Joan had applied for it at the time, didn't get it and, in a fit of pique, threw out the job description and all her application materials.  So when the department manager asked her last week if she'd like to have the job because the new person wanted to go to a different department, she wasn't even entirely sure what it was.  She accepted it anyway.

Well, what it is, is going to be pretty cool, I think.  Somebody has to be the Library's presence on Facebook and Twitter and so on and so forth.  You know, the human being behind posts like this one (and I am a human being, I promise).  There are things technical involved, which she's very good at; she'll go places and meet people, and the whole thing just sounds pretty darn cool.

I only have the vaguest idea of what Joan actually did in the Department of Cataloging.  It involved numbers, it involved meticulous rules, and it was all about telling books where to go.  Beyond that, I couldn't tell you.  She used to go to conferences with titles like, "A New Look at The Use of MARC Records in UNIX Environments".  What the hell does that even mean?  I never knew.  "Social media librarian" is a lot more understandable.

So there will be two of us running around with our heads full of new job stuff.  Should be interesting.  Today my brain got tired with 45 minutes left to go.  Sucks to be me sometimes.  Cheers!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Newbie

So I started a new job this week.  Starting a new job, just incidentally, is not on my list of fun things to do when I'm bored and there's nothing good on the radio.  In fact I kind of hate it.  It's all about going from being the person in charge, who knows everything about everything, to being the newbie, who doesn't even know where the ladies' room is.  Couple that with the fact that the stuff I'm in charge of has been galloping ahead at full speed, and reproducing like a slime mold, for quite a while with nobody keeping an eye on it, and you can see how this might be A Challenge.  My anxiety level's been off the charts. I've written emails and then reread them three or four times to make sure I'm not A. inadvertently making myself look stupid and B. stepping on anybody's toes before I send them. Yes, I know that's a little excessive, but it's only in the last year or so that I started to realize that every single piece of correspondence that goes out from my desk does not have to be the letter equivalent of War and Peace.  Sometimes I can just say, "Hey, I need this. Please send it to me" and click send.

Still, as challenges go, it's pretty cool. I've made lots of charts and tables to Keep Track of Things.  I'm starting to memorize names and pertinent dates, and by the end of next week I should be well into Phase II.  What is Phase II?  In fact, what in hell am I doing?  Well, I can't really tell you.  Still, this thing will proceed in phases and it's good to know that I'm starting to get a grip on it.  I'd like to start being productive sooner rather than later.

The other thing I'd like to achieve next week is a desk.  Because at the moment, I don't exactly have one.  I've been hanging out with my sort-of assistant. (I have a sort-of assistant!! She's really my boss's assistant, but she can assist me too, how cool is that?)  This office has two ends.  My boss and I are on one end, and the other person-in-charge is at the other end.  At that same other end is where basically everyone else has space.  Since I'm new and am going to have all kinds of questions, they thought it made sense to have me on the noisy end.  So that's where I've been.  I kind of have half of a desk.  No drawer space, though, nor is there anywhere to put my plant.  (I have this plant that I've had on my desk since 2007.  It's currently on my dresser, where I think it's bored, to say nothing of facing the eternal danger of being eaten by cats.)  So at some point next week I'd like to move in to my desk, even if I still spend time at the other end of the office with everyone else.  I have a laptop. I can be mobile.

And then there's the chair issue.  Back about three months ago, when I was moving my old office from Space A to Space B, I was lifting a box and somehow did something to a muscle in my hip.  It's been giving me grief ever since, on and off.  I strongly suspect my former chair did a lot more to aggravate matters than help matters heal.  So the first thing I brought to the office was my gel cushion, which is this nifty (though very heavy) thing I got from Office Depot that adds a lot of softness to a regular office chair.  Unfortunately, the cushion didn't help matters and my hip flared up again.  I asked for another chair, and got one.  Once I got it, though, I had this odd feeling that I was listing to starboard.  I finally asked my sort-of assistant if this was my imagination, or what.  She confirmed that I was indeed listing to starboard and that something was wrong with the chair.  So I'm now on Chair No. 3, which is working out great, but how embarrassing to go through three chairs in a week.  I'm going to get a reputation as a serial chair killer.
Here's what my tattoo looks like. First person to
tell me what it is gets a cheesy prize. Maybe a
wheel of Provolone.

Another thing that happens with a new job is new rules.  Here's one I did not expect: Tattoos must be covered up at all times whilst working at this office.  (Actually, I'm told this is not an unusual office policy, but it's the first time I've come across it.)  And yes, I do have a (gasp) tattoo.  It's on my back, just below my neck, where I forget it exists most of the time.  I'm now in the process of going through all my blouses to see which ones cover it up, and are therefore Safe For Work, and which don't and need to be put aside.  Well, you know how it is.  New job, new wardrobe.  Break me out the credit card, I'm going shopping. First item on the list is a good neutral-colored scarf that I can keep at work just in case.  Imagine, my gangsta thug past is finally catching up with me.

My new cow orkers are all pretty nice.  There's definitely a sense of "we're all in this together," which is not something I had at my last place of employ (being as it was Just Me) or the one before that (for various other reasons).  That's a nice thing to have.  If I ever get used to having a sort-of assistant, I'll start handing things off to her.  In the meantime, I'll keep going to lunch with people.  (Not a cheap hobby, but probably useful in terms of clout.)

So anyway, that's the new job, so far.  Now it's the weekend, so I'm going to rest up and get ready for Phase II. Wish me luck.  They haven't scared me away yet, but I guess it could still happen.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What God Do You Want With That?

An actual post about Buddhism.  Will wonders never cease.  Yeah, okay, I've been a little remiss in the whole point of this blog's existence.  So here's my latest little sermonette.  It focuses on the existence of God, something which I, as a Twelve-Step person, am not supposed to be questioning.  But I do, all the time.  The brain doesn't turn off just because it's supposedly vital to my continued survival.

I heard Buddhism described once as "a religion without a god," assuming that Buddhists don't believe in God.  Well, you'd have to ask a Buddhist.  Actually, you'd have to ask ten Buddhists, and then you'd get twenty answers and forty deep discussions.  Yes, I know I've said that before, but it doesn't make it any less true.  Still, to call Buddhism "a religion without a god" is kind of a misnomer.  Buddhism, like Christianity, spread over a large area in a relatively short period of time, and like Christianity, it basically overlaid the religious practices that were already in existence and sort of absorbed them.  When Christianity showed up (relatively late) in Ireland, many of the local Celtic and pagan gods became part of the new faith.  "Oh, you have a god named Bridget? Well, you must mean Saint Bridget!  Let me tell you all about Saint Bridget..."  Oh, and the Horned One/Forest God?  He kinda didn't fare so well.  You see a horned being in Christianity, he's probably not good news.  I'm just saying.

In the same way, Buddhism has a slew of higher beings called bodhisattvas and arhats and other
weird-sounding Sanskrit names.  One of these guys is named Skandha, the Buddhist guardian against temptation to overindulgent behavior.  I kid you not, Buddhism created an entire being to ward off the mad urge to have more than one cookie with dinner.  I happen to know about him because my therapist, who was perhaps becoming exasperated as to how often this God thing kept coming up, said, "Why don't you just look up some of those bodhisattvas and pick one?"  I picked Skandha because he looked like the leader of a motorcycle gang.  Seriously, doesn't he?  It's something about the helmet.  And maybe the chestplate.  
But I feel really stupid trying to pretend Skandha's following me around, eternally on the lookout for extra cookies.  It just feels kind of silly, like having an imaginary friend.  The truth is, I didn't believe in God well before I became a Buddhist.  I told my Lutheran pastor that I didn't believe in God right before the big Christmas service.  He said, "What God don't you believe in?" and I was kind of stuck for an answer for a minute there, but then I said, "The Old Testament God."  He said, "Well, I don't believe in that God either."  Which was reassuring, especially for a Lutheran pastor, but then he ruined it by saying, "That's why we have a New Testament."

I asked my Buddhist monk friend ChiSing if there was a God and he said it didn't matter if there was one or not.  When I pressed him on it, he said that if there is a God, he needs to be enlightened, and if he's enlightened already, well, then that's just grand, isn't it?  Which is just irritating in the extreme, but then, conversations with Buddhist monks often are.  Still, I would say most Buddhists probably believe in God.  At least, the ones that I know seem to.  Some of them actually mention God from time to time.  Others talk about "the Universe" taking care of things, and something like the Universe is so exponentially huge and beyond human comprehension that it might as well be God.  I also meet Buddhists who think that the whole question of whether or not there's a god just isn't one that's worth spending a lot of mental energy on.  There either is one, or there isn't one, and (tossing up the hands in dramatic fashion) we have no control over it anyway.  Buddhists are big on not having any control over things.  So are Twelve-Step people.

Lately I've been thinking of taking on Google as my Higher Power.  Google has all the answers.  It doesn't necessarily have correct answers, but answers--it's got 'em.  If you want correct answers, forget Google and go talk to your friendly local librarian.  She'll help you find them.  Hm, maybe the librarian should be my Higher Power.  I live with a librarian already, so it'll be a short trip to church.

Anyway, I still don't believe in God.  And if the question is, what God don't I believe in, then the answer is, I don't believe in the god of Abraham or the god of Peter and Paul.  I don't believe in Thor, either (but I kind of wish I did).  I believe that the Bible is basically a history of a people who decided to use their religion as an excuse not to get along with their neighbors.  We're still using that excuse today, every day, all over the world.  We may have all these neato technical advances and we may have extended the boundaries of science catrillions of times farther than our forefathers ever thought possible, but as far as becoming better people, we have evolved exactly zero points since the Bronze Age, and I think religion has a lot to do with that.

What I  do believe in, is fate.  I believe in signs and portents, miracles and wonders.  I believe that there are certain threads of space and time that are meant to come out a certain way, and that eventually they will get there no matter what steps in front of them.  I believe that there's a  kind of cosmic force, if you will, that makes us all alive, and that force is inside every being that lives or has ever been alive or ever will be alive everywhere in the universe.  I believe that if an energy force can have an intention (and I believe it can), it wants us all to do the right thing, and maybe be a little nicer to each other.  I believe if you get in touch with this intention, then your life and the lives of everyone around you will become infinitely easier.  And I believe that one of the ways to get in touch with this intention is Buddhism.

Though, to be honest, the I Ching coins and the Tarot cards don't hurt.

Monday, October 27, 2014

One Of Those "The Shoe Is On The Other Foot" Experiences.

Ever had one of those pieces of good news that you've been wanting to tell everybody about, but you can't because one or two things haven't been confirmed yet?  Well, that's kind of been my situation for the last three weeks.  I knew I had the job, was told I'd for sure be getting an offer, it was just a matter of someone being back in the office long enough to do something about it, so hold tight and don't take any other offers.  Well, I wasn't going to, because they came looking for me and not the other way around, but anyway, everything finally fell together so I can now tell y'all that I have a new job.  Yay!  

I'm very excited.  It's a good job with a very good firm, their reputation is excellent, I got to spend about 20 minutes with my future boss and I think we will work together very well, and all the positive signs are where they should be.  The downside was having to tell my current boss, whom I like a lot, that I'm leaving.  Fortunately, he took it pretty well, though he was obviously less than thrilled.

The other downside has been that I'm mostly in charge of hiring my replacement.  We placed an ad, and after a few hours of getting just one resume, then another and then another, we suddenly got something like 85 all at once.  I'm not sure where they were hiding, but they're here now, and so over the last couple of days I've had the joy of reading 120-odd resumes.  And some of them were very odd indeed.  

People, I have mailed resumes and I have mailed resumes.  I have drafted clever cover letters and I have filled out online forms.  I have, in other words, done my share of job searching, but I've never been on the other side of the desk before and I had no idea how utterly weird it could be.  How weird?  Well, here's just a smattering of the things I've come across.

  • Quite a few resumes had really obvious spelling and grammatical errors.  If you're applying for a "legal assistant" position, you might wanna know how to spell "assistant." 
  • And then there was the guy who misspelled the name of a FORMER EMPLOYER.  Let me get this straight; you worked there three years and never learned how to spell the name of the company? 
  • There were also resumes that addressed the wrong law firm, referenced the wrong position, or addressed to "Dear Mr. Smothers" when there was no "Mr. Smothers" in the job ad.  I mean, that's just not paying attention, people.  
  • And speaking of not paying attention, try not to apply for the same job twice on two consecutive days.  You ARE keeping a record of all this, aren't you?
  • It's nice that you're looking for an evening/weekend position, but, uh, that's NOT WHAT WE'RE HIRING FOR.  
  • And then there were the creative email addresses.  Like "Fairywings@whatever.com" and one very memorable "studhorse56@p0rnapal00za.com."  People, no potential employer is going to reply to an email address like that.  Please, for the love of God, get a Gmail or Yahoo address that's just your "lastname.firstname@..." 
  • I'm glad you were born again in Christ on July 2, 2012, but it doesn't need to be on your resume.  Honest.
  • Nor do I care that you've been sober for 12 years.  In fact, I'd rather not know that.  
  • And I just love getting your resume not from you, but from your academic advisor.  Because that's classy. 
  • Odd statements: "I prefer a salary that reflects my ability, experience & commitment.  Of course, I am willing to address that as necessary."  Well, I would hope so? 
  • "My present job is not a legal assistant job, but it pays the bills."  Um. Okay? 
  • "I am a fast learner and will be able to transfer fundamental skills like organization (spelled wrong), customer service, negotiation (spelled wrong) and case preparation to your office." Great, but I suspect that's your way of telling me you don't have any litigation experience and...hey, I'm right.
I'll admit I went to business school a long time ago, but for the love of God, have things changed that much?  I mean, I hope this is just a case of not knowing any better, because honestly, I'm becoming depressed about the fate of future generations and all that.  Of the 120-odd resumes, we got exactly nine that we're considering.  Nine.  I mean that's about 10%.  Which, I discovered after a couple of quick Google searches, was about average.  That's even more depressing. 

Look, people, it's your resume.  It will get you, or not get you, a job interview.  It needs to be perfect.  If you aren't good at noticing misspellings and typos, get someone else to look at it for you.  Get more than one someone else, if you have to, and listen to what they say.  You probably know someone who has occasion to look at resumes once in a while.  Even if you don't, you probably know someone whose education went further than yours, who works in a higher position than you do, who majored in English or literature or something and can at least tell you if your resume is written in the right language.  Even if you end up having to pay someone, just do it.  Again, it's your resume.  You deserve to have a good one.  Or at least one that won't embarrass you in public.  

I know of what I speak. Back when I first got out of college, I was writing resumes for all my friends and getting paid in pounds of coffee. (All my friends worked at Starbucks.)  I still do it from time to time, sometimes for actual cash money.  And if I had to sum up the elements that make a great resume, the list would look something like this:
  •  Put the most important information first.  The average hiring manager is going to glance at your resume for about ten seconds, so make sure your most critical skills are on top.  If you've had a few jobs and been in the workforce for a while, put your job experience first. If you're brand-new to the job market and just graduated from someplace, put your educational experience first.  If neither of those apply, you might want to lead off with your most important job skills--which tend to be computer skills these days, but it depends on what job you're applying for.  Talk to somebody in the field to get a better idea of what should go where.
  • Don't be afraid to vary your resume according to the job you're applying for.  A lot of companies use screening software to look for specific words, and if those words aren't in your resume, you'll get skipped.  The best way to avoid this is to read the job ad carefully and look for terms of art like "civil litigation" and "appellate filings" (because I'm in the legal field; your mileage may vary).  Make sure those terms appear somewhere in your resume.
  • Don't go over two pages.  Even if you've been in the field for 30 years, nobody's going to read more than two pages.  It's okay to sum up the first ten years of your career in a sentence or two, and then provide details for the last ten years (which is primarily what a hiring manager wants to know about). Things change very quickly these days.  A "legal secretary" when I first started working was using a typewriter and carbon paper.  Obviously that's no longer the case, so a "legal secretary" job from 20 years ago is going to be pretty meaningless to your current job skills.  Or I hope so, anyway.
  • Use bullet lists and keep the format consistent.  This makes it easier for the hiring manager to pick out the important stuff in a hurry.  And they're always in a hurry.
  • Use a nice, clean readable font, like Times Roman, Arial or Bookman Old Style.  If you want to vary the look of certain areas, try bolding and underlining, or changing the text size.  Don't use more than one font; it looks sloppy and like you forgot to read it over before you submitted it.  And please, please don't use script fonts.  Yes, I know they're pretty, but they're very hard to read.  Save them for party invitations.  Please. 
Finally, here are a couple of tips for job hunting in general:
  • Apply fast.  I got 120 resumes in one day; if you're applying three days out from the day the ad appeared, you're probably too late.  Focus on the current day's ads, then go back a day or two days if you have time. 
  • Most job ads appear on Friday or Monday, because that's when people tend to give notice.  So try to set aside extra time for job hunting on those days, because you'll need it.
  • If you haven't been there lately, your local library has a ton of resources for job hunters, from books about how to put together a good resume to computers you can use to apply for jobs if you happen not to have one at home.  A lot of libraries even have programs like "job hunter's boot camp" available for free or for a nominal fee.  Be sure to ask.  Remember, your librarian is your friend.
  • Talk to people. Tell everyone you know that you're looking for work.  Keep a couple of resumes in your car with you, because you never know when you might run into someone who knows someone who is looking for someone.  
  • Above all, take good care of yourself. Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, eat a good diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, and try to have a little fun every day.  Job hunting is hard work.  It's physically draining and mentally grueling.  You'll be more up to the challenge if you're feeling physically well.  
Okay, I'm getting off my soapbox now.  I'll resume commentary on Buddhism, writing, things legal and the sorry state of the planet with my next post.  Meantime, soldier on. And remember, you can't get Ebola without doing something that's pretty gross.  Cheers!

Friday, October 17, 2014

STOP THIS IMMEDIATELY.

EBOLA HQ, Texas -- It was the cruise ship that did me in.

Like everybody else on the planet, I've been watching the public meltdown of Texas Health Presybterian Hospital Dallas and just kind of shaking my head.  Presby is a respected institution with a lot of recognized programs, but you'd never know it if you're watching TV.  And honestly, I have seen some BAD PR emergencies in my time, but this is a clusterfuck of such monumental proportions that I've never seen anything like it, except maybe when the Space Shuttle blew up, and I doubt I'll ever see anything like it again.  I mean, it's just astounding.  Every time I think we've hit the bottom of the barrel, it turns out that underneath it is a whole 'nother barrel.  Emergency rooms turning away patients with potentially fatal diseases.  Nurses treating a contagious patient without protective equipment.  Piles of biological waste accumulating because no one knows how to deal with it.  An entire pneumatic tube system possibly contaminated because some idiot sent a sample that way instead of walking it down, per protocol.  Next up I'm expecting a couple of the nurses who treated the poor Ebola guy will get sick. Oh wait, that's already happened.

To some extent, people's fears of catching Ebola are reasonable.  It is, after all, a highly fatal disease (this strain is 50-70% fatal, which is bad, but it can be and does get worse; some strains of Ebola are over 90% fatal).  But  what's infecting Dallas right now is a little thing we call mass hysteria.

Mass hysteria has an interesting history.  In the Middle Ages, a number of outbreaks occurred among cloistered nuns, including an episode where an entire convent full of women began meowing like cats.  In Salem in the 1600s, mass hysteria over suspected witchcraft led to the deaths of 27 people. In 1835, an erroneous news report suggesting that "bat men" had been discovered living on the Moon led to sightings of bat men all over Europe.  More recently, in the United States, pandemonium broke out when a radio broadcast of H.G. Wells's  The War of the Worlds was mistaken for news reports of an actual attack.  And now, in Dallas, we have the Great Ebola Panic of 2014.  Splatter everything you touch with hand sanitizer and don't come within three feet of anybody who might have once been in a graduating class with somebody who once worked at Presby.

As I was saying, it's the cruise ship that did me in.  Okay, an infected nurse who was showing symptoms flew on a public plane.  Yeah, that was bad, and yeah, I can see the people who sat near her on the plane being a little freaked out and maybe wanting to stay at home for a while to make sure they're not sick.  But now we've got schools closing and buildings being scrubbed down with bleach.  We've got people being kicked out of their offices.  We've got elder statesmen howling about banning all flights to and from Africa.  We've got a motherfucking cruise ship, for the love of God, being held off the coast of Belize because one passenger worked as a lab tech at the hospital where the first Ebola patient was being treated.  And the United States Government is going to pay to air evac this person, who is not sick, has no symptoms, and who wasn't really at risk to catch anything anyway.  I mean this is not reasonable, people.  This is insanity.  No, worse.  It's mass hysteria.  Next thing you know all the nurses will start meowing like cats.

I'd like to point out that it's actually rather difficult to catch Ebola, unless you're a nurse or someone else in close contact with the patient.  You have to be splattered with bodily fluids of some kind to be at risk.  This is gross, so I'll decline to elaborate, but shaking hands will not get you Ebola.  Somebody sneezing in your vicinity will not get you Ebola.  Touching something someone with Ebola has touched will not get you Ebola.  You have to work at it. It's not as hard to catch as, say, AIDS, but the science is getting thrown out the window in favor of, once again, mass hysteria.  And the more CNN drones on and on about the same three or four points of fact it's been droning on and on about for the past three days, the longer it's going to continue and the worse it's going to get.  If this continues for long enough, anybody with a cold is going to end up arrested.  We do NOT want to go there.

So.  Everybody take a deep breath.  Let it out slowly.  Very good.  Take another one.  Yep, just as deep as the last one.  Let it out slowly.  One more ought to do it.  Deep breath.  Let it out.

There.  Feel better?  I thought so.

Now STOP WATCHING THE EBOLA COVERAGE.  Just stop doing it.  Turn off the TV, don't listen to the radio, ignore the newspapers and do not, I repeat do not get on CNN and troll the chat boards.  Just don't do this.  It's very very bad.  I speak as one who knows.  In all seriousness, the more the media hypes this thing, the worse it's going to get.  The best thing that could possibly happen would be for all of us to just accept that life itself comes with certain dangers, that probably 99% of us will never have to worry about catching Ebola, that the few who do already know who they are and are probably monitoring themselves, and that the rest of us would benefit hugely if we would all just chill the fuck out.  Immediately.

On a point of personal irritation: Anderson Cooper's been in town for three whole days now, and he hasn't once been to my place for dinner and cheap sex.  The nerve.  I wonder if he's seeing someone else.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

...But No One's Home

Back in the far wastelands of 2010, when the Affordable Care Act hadn't been signed yet and so we had all these different and exciting things to fight about, an ice storm blew into Dallas and knocked out our power for four days.  This was four days in the coldest part of winter, I might add.  I think a couple of nights it got below zero, or very close to zero, and I smuggled in neighborhood cat Orange Guy so that he could sleep somewhere warm. (He was a perfect gentleman, too.)  We kept the house sort of warmish with our gas fireplace, and everybody slept on the living room floor in a pile of cushions close to the fire.  It was dark and cold and altogether not fun.  So you'll pardon me if, every time the power's gone out since, my anxiety skyrockets and I start pacing the floor.  On some level I'm just absolutely convinced it's going to happen again.

And as it turned out, I was right. Last Thursday, a storm blew through Dallas.  It wasn't really that much to write home about; just some rain and a lot of wind.  Fierce wind, but not unusual for around here.  I mean, we do get storms here, people.  We're at the very south end of Tornado Alley, and just because Dallas County's never been hit with a tornado higher than an EF-2 doesn't mean that it couldn't someday happen.  Anyway, 300,000 people across five counties lost power.  Including yours truly and Joan, of course.

I will say, losing power in the summer beats the hell out of losing it in the winter.  No gas fireplace required, for one thing.  We just braced open a couple of windows and got a cross-breeze going.  We still had the gas stove upon which to cook, the hot water in the tank stayed relatively hot (seeing as it wasn't cold out), we packed the refrigerator and freezer full of ice to preserve the food, and apart from a total lack of TV, radio, Internet and Words with Friends, it was a lot more survivable.  But, again, not exactly what you'd call fun.

This time the power stayed off for three days.  I would just like to say, what is up with that?  Once again, we get these storms.  They happen. Trees get knocked down. Power poles lose their moorings.  Why in hell do 300,000 people have to lose power for three days in a situation like this?  I mean, I'd suggest we've learned absolutely nothing from past experience, but I personally had all our trees cut back that came anywhere near our power lines (and had one tree removed altogether).  And people frequently write outraged letters to the editor when the electric delivery company around here, Oncor, comes around and chops off the tops of their trees.  They can do that.  It's their job.  To gauge from these letters, though, you'd think that Oncor stomped onto their lawns, shotguns drawn, whacked the trees in half, spit on the porch steps and mooned the homeowners on the way out.  Honestly.  If it were me I'd be thanking them. The last time our tree service came over and did some major work, the bill was well over a thousand dollars.

(And I could point out that if you take care of your own trees and don't let them get tall enough to mess with the power lines, Oncor's never going to bother you, but I get continually reminded about the utter uselessness of attacking a problem like this with logic and reasoning.)

I'm beginning to suspect that we in this town might have what is known as a hopelessly antiquated electrical delivery system.  Newer cities do things like bury their electrical lines underground, where they're basically immune to falling trees.  (Though I suppose you might find the occasional deep-fried gopher.)  I'm wondering what it would take to get our power lines buried here in Dallas. A miracle?  An act of Congress?  An act of the City Council, anyway, and since that would require spending some money, I'd be tempted to write if off as totally impossible.

I'd also be tempted to get a bunch of my neighbors together, form a special district, apply for grants and see if we can get it done for a fairly reasonable amount of money per homeowner.  Which is something else that might be written off as totally impossible.

Except for one small thing.  I've done it before.

Or something similar, anyway.  Granted, I was the de facto president of a homeowner's association at the time, but I managed to get a heavily Hispanic population of homeowners to pack up all their living beings and move out for termite tenting over EASTER WEEKEND.  You know, the biggest religious festival of the year.  That thing where everybody has relatives over and throws lots of parties.  And no, I didn't pick the weekend.  I just got stuck with having to implement it.  And implement it I did.  Some of them even still spoke to me after it was all over.

Do I miss being the de facto president of a homeowner's association?  No, I do not.  I'd rather be dragged naked through flaming walls of rabid rattlesnakes.  So don't worry, I'm not going to start signing up homeowners tomorrow or anything.  But this is an ongoing problem and I don't see it getting any better.  What's worse, it's a big problem. The kind you need other people to help solve. I do not want to go through another three-day blackout, no matter what time of year it is.  Besides the niceties of existing in the 21st century when you're powered for the 19th, there's the joy of driving to work through traffic caused by flashing red traffic signals. It took me an hour and a half to get to work Friday morning.  And it's only a frick'n 20 minute drive.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mini-Post: 3bdr, 2ba, No Pool

It's official.  Yesterday it was two weeks since I've been in a pool full of chlorinated water, swimming back and forth and doing my thing.  I've been on dry land so long my gills are starting to recede, and if this continues I'm pretty sure the webbed skin between my toes is just going to dry up and fall the heck off.  If I don't smell like chlorine, am I still me?  Actually at the moment, I and everything I've been in contact with for the last 24 hours smell like Sweet Pumpkin Spice body spray.  Which spilled in my work bag.  Does anyone know how to get the overpowering reek of body spray out of a work bag? Or should I just throw it out and get a new work bag?  I've washed it in the washing machine twice now. The work bag, I mean.

Anyway, I've been really sick.  It started off as an ear infection.  I get those once in a while (see above re: swimming).  Then instead of getting better, I got worse and what had been an ear infection took over my whole head, and my chest.  I'm on my second set of antibiotics and I don't think they're doing a lot of good.  I mean, I am getting incrementally better, but I think I'm fighting a war of attrition, not one of nuclear weapons.  Usually two or three days on antibiotics and I'm fine, or at least a lot better.  It's now Day 16 and I'm still wheezing and coughing.  It's hard to swim when you can't breathe in the first place.

Not-swimming is probably one of the worst things that can possibly happen to me.  Not just because of the not-swimming part, which sucks plenty, but because it throws the rest of my routine all to hell.  If I'm not swimming, then I'm not getting up at the right time of the morning.  If I'm not getting up at the right time of the morning, I'm sleepy on and off all day.  If I'm sleepy, I'm not getting what I need to do done in the evening; I'm just going straight to bed.  So the house is a mess and I'm kind of a mess and I'm not getting any writing done and did I mention everything I touch smells like Sweet Pumpkin Spice body spray?

Oh, and a guy in Suriname tweeted his undying love to me earlier this morning.  Not quite a Twitter marriage proposal, but close.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Haven't You Heard From Me?

Lily: I'm in trouble with this damn play, and you don't care.
Dash: Lily, it's your first play.  It's not like anybody's gonna miss ya.

--Julia

If you've been hanging around here long enough, you've probably wondered why I haven't written a book, or a play, or Something Of Substance.  If you've really been hanging around here long enough, you know that I've actually written three of them, thankewverymuch, and that's not counting one I self-published that sold about twenty copies and another one that I wrote, uh, basically for my mother.  (Everybody writes stuff for their mother.  Just ask Elvis.  Oh, wait, you can't, Never mind.)  Three of them even ganged up on each other and formed a trilogy.  (Ah, trilogies.  The word sounds like a lost Asian nation, doesn't it?  "Hey stlanger, wercome to Trilogy!  You be here long time, yes?"  Oh God, somebody smack me for being a racist.)

Anyway, they're called Mindbender, Spellbinder and Soulmender, and they're still hanging around my house like lazy post-adolescent children, too fond of the free food and the clean laundry to move out and get their own place.  Which is to say, they're not published yet.  I had a literary agent once, but he quit the business to run for Congress and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.  (He didn't win, either.  Actually he didn't have a chance, and the only one who didn't seem to know that was him, but never mind.)  So I've been kind of orphaned ever since.  I'm looking for a new agent, which means I've been writing lots of goddamned earnest letters to total strangers asking them to take me on as a client for their eighty-hour-a-week mostly unpaid job convincing some publishing house that I'll sell like Suzanne Collins when in fact I might sell more like David Moody.  And if you haven't heard of David Moody, well, that kind of makes my point, doesn't it?  (To be honest, I'd love to sell like David Moody.  Hi, David!  How's it going?)

So anyway, I've written all these letters, and I haven't really gotten anywhere, although I have had some responses, so it's apparently not hopeless.  I just need to keep on writing these darn letters until I get a yes.  Considering that I have anxiety the size of a large nervous T-rex when I'm writing one of these things, that is no small feat. (For more information on all the fun I've had writing query letters, click on the label "angsty query letter crap", below.  Yeah, and meet Scaley and Fang, my dinosaurs of anxiety and sudden panic.)

A reasonable person might very well ask why bother, anyway.  Literary agents take on something like .001% of the people who write to them as clients.  By the time I'm in the right place at the right time with the right letter on the right day, I could be a hundred years old (or maybe even dead; by the time I die I'm sure that querytracker.net will  be able to send query letters for you in perpetuity, pursuing the dream of publication beyond the physical realm.) Well, it's like this (and here comes the Buddhism again): Being published, or not being published, isn't anywhere near as important as writing.  Writing is everything.  Publishing is business.  It's a good business if you can get it, but it's still only business.  Sooner or later you have to leave business and go home and eat some fresh butter-flavored tortillas from the Kroger Bakery.  And then you can write something.

Another way of putting this is an old OA saying:  "I'm chairman of the planning committee, not the results committee." I do the right things.  I write a lot. I rewrite a lot.  I read a lot.  I hang around with other writers a lot.  I go to seminars, I show up at open mic events (though I've never actually said much more than "Good evening, and this is so and so."), I've even been to the occasional conference.  In short, I live like a writer's supposed to live, minus the alcohol binges and the frequent trips to rehab (that's the Buddhism again).  The fact that nobody's paying me for it doesn't make it any less important.  The fact that I have a "day job" doesn't make it any less important.  The fact that I"m not where I wanted to be by now doesn't make it any less important.  The only person hovering over me with a stopwatch is, uh, me.

That is to say, I had constructed this whole theoretical timeline, based on nothing more than conjecture, of What I'd Be Doing By The Time I'm Forty-Five.  I got plenty annoyed with myself when I failed to meet just about every conjectural deadline.  Which was ridiculous.  Plenty of people don't produce stunning masterpieces that change the face of fiction for all time by the time they're forty-five, and no harm comes to them.  (And plenty of people who do come to bad ends.  Look what happened to Truman Capote.  And he wasn't even writing fiction.)  The point is, I'm responsible for the process, not the outcome.  I'm not responsible for how long the process takes.  I'm also not responsible for getting paid.  Some of those things we just need to leave up to God.

Yes, I know I don't believe in God.  But I do believe in something.  So sue me.  And if you know a literary agent, send him or her my way, willya?  Thank you.  And have a nice day.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Jen's List of Ten Influential Books

There's a thing on Facebook right now where you're supposed to list the ten most influential books you have ever read.  I'm not sure why this is a thing, but I'm sure glad they're books instead of, say, movies or video games.  So I guess I could have just put this on Facebook, but I figured, why waste a perfectly good blog post on Facebook when you could stick it on your blog and beat your Thursday deadline by almost a full forty-eight hours?  (And boy, are they ever strict about those deadlines around here.  Last time I missed one they threatened to cut my salary in half.  Eep.)  Anyway, here they are, in no particular order except for the last one. 

Very Far Away From Anywhere Else by Ursula Le Guin.  Really, if you haven't read it there's no way I can explain.  Pick it up and give it a read; it's only about 70 pages long, and if you don't cry at the end, there's something wrong with you.  

I Never Promised You A Rose Garden by Hannah Green.  Read it at least 40+ times and I get something different out of it every single time.  (Like the John Calvin vs. Thomas Hobbes for custody of the child in the middle third--didn't know that was even in there, did ya?)  And yes, it's dated, and some of its theories have since been proven wrong, but it was the Sixties, and things were different then. Go back in time and experience them. 

God's War by Kameron Hurley, and its two sequels to a lesser extent.  Best Muslim space western sci-fi shoot-em-up ever.  And possibly only.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - not because it's a great story, although it is, or because the author is so good at building characters, though she is, but because it exploded the boundaries of YA fiction in a way that had never been done before and made the series that came came after (Divergent, Wasteland, the Matched trilogy) not only possible but plausible.  

Columbine by Dave Cullen.  Yes, it's about the high school shooting, and no, it's not pleasant reading, but guess what? Almost everything you know about Columbine is wrong.  A series of popular myths has grown out of Columbine and other school shootings, and those myths need to be addressed with the actual cold hard facts.  This book goes a long way toward doing that--if we're willing to listen and put some of our Robin Hood fantasies down.  

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey.  Hey, they said most influential, not Most Scholarly and Serious.  This was my introduction to Anne McCaffrey, and it blew me away (though unfortunately, a lot of the later ones in this series didn't).  But here we have a rather simple tale about a girl nobody understands, who turns out to be one of the most important people in the world because of something she--sings.  How can you not like a story like that?  And the old "be yourself, and do what you have to do no matter where it takes you" message isn't that hard on the old subconscious either.  

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Good Omens takes Douglas Adams' general wackiness and runs with it at a speed I would not have thought possible.  You cannot get through a page without laughing out loud, and it confirmed some of the things I always suspected but didn't know for sure (like, for example, the truth that any cassette tape, left long enough in a car, will somehow morph into Queen's Greatest Hits no matter what it started out as).  Especially in light of Sir Pratchett's failing health, I'm glad we have this gem among gems (his Discworld series is pretty awesome, too).

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.  Lots of authors write lots of books about lots of things that really happened, but not very many of them invent a whole new subgenre while they're at it.  To Mr. Capote, inventor of what's now called "narrative nonfiction," I give a bow.  And to In Cold Blood, which is a dark and brooding tale that well deserves every single award it ever won, a salute.

Batter My Heart, Three-Person'd God by John Donne.  Okay, it's a sonnet and not a book, but it so perfectly captures my problem with religion that I just couldn't help but include it here.  Look, if you want me to believe in your God, your God is gonna have to steamroller me to get my attention. That's exactly what John Donne said--only much better, and much more wistfully.  In about 1618.  So Google it, it's long since out of copyright.

And finally:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson.  

This is my favorite book of all time.

Of. All. Time.  

If you haven't read it, what are you waiting for?  Yeah, you know how it ends, but still, give it a try. Again, it's about 70 pages long. You can read it in an hour, even with all that highfalutin' 19th-century prose.  The way that Stevenson sets up his final shocker is masterful; we start with Mr. Utterson, the lawyer, follow him around for a while, then he exits stage left right around the time another character enters from stage right, and then we get to follow him for a while.  Dr. Jeckyll, himself, doesn't show up as a character until almost 2/3 of the way through the book, and by then you're not sure you can trust anything he says even though you desperately want to know what the hell is going on.

I could go on for decades (I'd make this book my master's thesis, if I were going to grad school, which I am not) but I'll just stop with this:  This is not only the scariest book I ever read, it's one of the most important--heck, maybe even the most important.  And if the idea of your subconscious leaving your body and walking around on its own, developing a personality, meeting your friends, taking your stuff and just maybe going on a murder spree, doesn't scare you, my friend, I suspect not very much will.  For other versions of this story I'll give honorable mention to the movie Mary Reilly, which documents some of the same events and is one of Ms. Julia Roberts' best performances ever, and the BBC series Jeckyll, starring James Nesbitt (who was robbed of a Golden Globe for his performance here).  

So that's it. My list of ten influential books.  Hm, nothing by Hemingway or Big Steve.  That's interesting.  Maybe I'll do this again in a year without looking back and see if anything changed.  In the meantime, happy reading, kids.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hangin' In Austin With The Smart People

I've been known to sneak out of town from time to time.  Not out of the state very often, because Texas is a big state and it's pretty expensive to go anywhere (thank  you, American Airlines), but there are some places in Texas that are pretty  darn nifty  and  not very expensive.  One of those places is Austin. Seat of  government. Source of the political oil that runs the good ol' boy network. And named after six million dollar man Steve Austin (okay, not really).  Seriously, Austin is out favorite Texas city. If we could find jobs there we'd move here in a heartbeat.

Last weekend, another bunch of smart people gathered for an event called the LoneStaRG. (RG means Regional Gathering, in case you did not know that.)  So for three days we ran around around to presentations on astrophysics and genetic testing and logarithmic equations.    Okay, I'm kidding. The last presentation I  went to was about an interactive haunted house right outside of Georgetown that raises money for charity.  And which also sounds totally cool and I'm trying to figure out how to get back there in late October to check it out (though I've been turned off by haunted houses the last few years.  I was going through one, and something particularly bloody and disgusting came along, and I suddenly asked myself, "Why am I doing this, anyway?" which is often a kind of fatal question for whatever it is you're doing.  But I'll make an exception here.  It's for charity.) We also dove into a movie trivia game, and first prize was a giant thingy of Jelly Bellys. Actually, the Jelly Bellys were somehow involved in the movie trivia. Did I win? No.  but who cares.  Anyway, movies and jelly beans. What could be better? Maybe a bottomless reserve of M and Ms. Oh hey, they had those too. Awesome.

One of the big draws for me at these events is always the game room.  I love puzzles and games.  This particular gathering had an evil puzzle.  Truly, this thing had a demon or something.  It was a thousand-piece puzzle of an oil painting of Canadian geese, and all the pieces looked like they were roughly the same muddy brown.  Of course there were different shades of ruddy brown, but try sorting shades of muddy brown into groups sometime and you'll see how tricky this is.  About ten of us worked on this puzzle on and off most of the weekend and only finished it late Sunday evening.  Somebody suggested that for our next trick we should set it on fire.  But no, that'd only make the demon mad.

You guys who love games, check this one out:  The Duke, by Catalyst Games.  If you like chess you will love The Duke.  Imagine chess where you're playing along and suddenly instead of moving only up, down or sideways, a rook can go spinning across the board diagonally.  Or a knight, instead of jumping up two squares and over one, can take out another piece from two squares away without moving at all.  And the Duke, himself, instead of being restricted to a single square like the king in chess games, is one of the most powerful pieces on the board.  Don't worry, all the pieces are preprinted with their permissible moves, so you don't have to memorize them.  But it helps.  And if the standard rules aren't complex enough, there are additional optional rules and expansion packs.  I mean, two people could play this game a million times and never have it come out the same way twice.  At our last gathering this game won the Mensa Select sticker.  It's also a Kickstarter success story.

So that's the sort of thing I get up to when I sneak out of town.  Games, puzzles and M and Ms.  You can tell what an exciting life I lead.  But hey, it's clean living and I don't have any wrinkles yet.  Cheers, all!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Other Duties As Required

I don't write a lot about work these days.  Mostly because work is uneventful, and not a whole lot happens in a small law firm to really justify the use of precious blog space.  (I mean, these inches are not cheap, people.  Why, just last year, they had to double my salary to keep me from leaving for Wordpress.)  But the last few weeks have been, at least, interesting.  We moved the office. Yep, from one place to another place (two doors down.)  In case you've never done this, moving an office is at least as much fun as moving a house.  Maybe even more fun. No, you don't have kids running around playing in boxes (well, yes you do actually; remind me to get back to that) but you do have certain grown-ups acting like kids, in the whiny, grumpy sort of way that so endears me to kids on airplanes.

(Which, when you think about it, isn't really their fault.  I mean, they're kids.  Somebody has to bring them there, put them on the airplane, mess up their schedules, keep them awake through naptime and tell them they can't play with all the new things that keep coming into their tiny frames of reference as they go from check-in to boarding gate to actual airplane.  If I were three years old, I'd start howling too.  And you see a lot of much older kids howling on airplanes.  55-year-old men, sometimes.  Flight attendants should get a big raise.)

Anyway, there were a large number of files that needed to be disposed of before we could leave.  Like, a really large number of files.  We called a shredding service and they came and hauled away (get this) 360 boxes of old files.  That is a Lot. Of. Files.  Some of them dated to the mid-1980s.  I don't think I can actually conceive of how many boxes that is, but let's just say they filled up an entire room.  That room is empty now, which is pretty cool.  I don't think the carpet's seen daylight since, well, sometime in the mid 1990s at least.

Our neighbor attorney was also cleaning out his office (the whole building was sold, so everybody had to go). His family came to help him out and one of his kids promptly disappeared into a box.  I never saw the kid again, but this box kept walking around and bumping into things.  A laugh and a little bit of levity that were very much welcome as the air conditioner failed, the heat climbed into the 90s and somebody asked me for about the fifth time was I sure I wanted to do such and such.

(And best of all, I never saw a single silverfish. I. Really. Hate. Silverfish.)

We're in the new space now and it's time to unpack it all.  Well, what's left of it. (360 boxes into the shredder, remember?)  I've locked myself out twice, gotten in trouble for leaving an office chair outside once (we were moving, okay? Sheesh) and had to talk my boss out of firing one of the helpers three times.  A coffee table disappeared, never to be seen again; stuff got left behind and had to be fetched; a big ugly dust mouse (more like a rhino, actually) formed around a Milk-Dud and made its way into one of the boxes, from which it promptly fell into my lap.  So I'm pretty tired, and I'm pretty stiff and sore, and I'm pretty much ready to be done with the whole thing. But, I got a new office chair out of the deal, I got myself a cushion so it's much more cozy, and it's possible the sore muscle in my hip will finally start to heal now that I'm not running up and down the stairs every five minutes.

But dang, those stairs were good for my knees. On some level I will really miss them.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Hijabs and Head Trips

I have a fascination for all things Islamic.  The art, the music, the food, the stories--all completely awesome.  I wonder if I wasn't a Muslim in a former life, because seriously, if I had nothing else to do and there was nothing good on television, I'd find some people who speak Arabic and just follow them around all day, listening to them talk.  (I might add, this wouldn't work in real life. I'm kinda obvious, and I'm sure they'd get tired of being followed around by this weird fat white chick.  But not until they'd said inshallah quite a few times.)


 I'fact, if not for the whole religion business, I think I'd have made a good Muslim.  (Again, religion; no matter how small it is, it's too big for me to swallow.)  Certainly the wardrobe wouldn't have been a problem.  If I could get away with it, I'd dress like a Muslim woman now.  (I don't think I can get away with it.  I mean I'd be the worst kind of poseur, wouldn't I?  Not to mention insulting to real Muslim women.)  But I do wear loose pants and long shirts, and I've been known to put on a hijab, especially in winter when it's cold (those little guys are great for staying warm.)  I'm extremely fond of Muslim fashion.



$2,575. Yes, really.
Oh, so you don't think there's such a thing as Muslim fashion?  Boy, are you in for a surprise.  Check out these evening gowns by designer Nzinga Knight.  I can't afford to even look at most of them, so you'll pardon me if I avert my eyes, but isn't this blue number something:

And if you don't have $2,500 to spend on an evening out, you can also check out these items from EastEssence.com:

Aren't they fabulous? I'm giving serious thought to ordering that denim dress, which is not only concealing but also has POCKETS.  What fool decided women's clothing doesn't need pockets?  He (I assume it was a he) needs to be taken out and shot.  Imagine men's pants with no pockets.  There'd be an outcry.  No one would buy them.  The designer would be shaken awake in the middle of the night by an outraged Tim Gunn, who would demand to know what on earth the guy was thinking.  And in his sleepy, half-awake state, the guy would probably say something like, "Aren't you Tim Gunn?"

 So why for Muslim fashion, you are probably wondering.  Well, I think I can answer that in a word: Security.  I have this bathing suit, see, which looks a lot like this one here.  Until I found the aquatard, it was my suit of choice for swimming outside.  Not because Buddhists are supposed to cover up in the water, but because of the darn sunlight.  I sunburn very easily, you see.  What's more, I seem to be mildly allergic to sunscreen, or the waterproofing ingredient in sunscreen, anyway.  So the less of the stuff I have to put on, the less cortisone I have to slather myself with once I get home.  Both the sunscreens I can use and cortisone are kind of pricey, so it was a cost/benefit analysis.

Plenty of people stared at me in my blue full-length swimsuit.  Well, you could hardly blame them. I looked like a refugee from the Smurf Village.  But--and here's the important thing--they weren't really staring at me.  They were staring at the suit. They couldn't stare at be because they couldn't find me.  I was in there somewhere--something had to be animating the Smurf suit--but I was, for the most part, invisible.  And as someone who's had a large number of males make eye contact with her third button for most of her life, being invisible was pretty awesome.

My friends who practice magic have told me that it's impossible to truly be invisible.  It has something to do with bending light which can't be done because of the way light passes through a void, or something. Being hard to see, though, is not only possible but easy.  It's simply a trick of convincing other persons that you are unimportant.  Something they can overlook because it's not something to waste a lot of energy noticing, like a potted plant in the room.  Do this just right and there is no door marked "Employees Only" through which you cannot sneak.  The only people who will see you are those who are actively looking for you, and even they might overlook you because you just don't register as important on their radar.

So try wearing a hijab and an abaya.  Poof, you've disappeared.  Well, no, you haven't.  Again, a lot of people will stare at you, but again they're staring at what you're wearing, not who you are.  And they won't notice your big breasts or your fat stomach or that weird thing your knees do because all that stuff is covered up.  Security, I tell you.  Safe as houses.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Final Report, and Highly Educated Ghosts

July Swim for Distance Final Report: 30,525 meters (19 miles) 
Charities Benefiting: Mercy for Animals, Detroit Water Brigade and whatever my mom picked

(Yeah, I changed charities midstream. Normally I wouldn't do that, but do you guys know what's going on in Detroit? I mean, it's unbelievable.  And while some 17,000 families and small businesses are now without water, the city hasn't even tried collecting from its larger corporate customers, like the city golf courses and other businesses, who in some cases owe millions.  This is a human-rights violation and the exact polar opposite of how a city is supposed to treat its own citizens. Why is this even happening in America, in our time?) 


Okay, I've come to the end of Swim for Distance month, and my distance was a respectable 19 miles.  I was shooting for 21, but that would have required everything to fall exactly into place in an ever so perfect way, and life is just never that uncomplicated.  If you've been following me to see how much you need to send to charity, plunk that $19 in an envelope and send it.  You can also figure it by the meter (30,525; maybe a penny a meter?  A penny for ten meters?) or the kilometer (30.5) if you want.  Thank you, your charities thank you too, and we'll do it again next year barring alien abductions or other unforeseen catastrophes.  

(And this is interesting:  Every time I get out of the pool at the end of a session, I have this brief moment of sadness that it'll be another 24 hours, or sometimes 48, before I get to jump back in again.  File that under "You know you're a swimmer when...")

Meanwhile, back in the real world, I saw a guy this morning who was wearing a pro-UT, anti-A and M t-shirt this morning and realized that I can add yet another thing to the long list of things I don't understand:  School spirit.  Okay, I understand that it's got something to do with raising children to be patriots, and the way you get them proud of their country is to make 'em proud of something smaller first so they'll grow up to be little rah-rah flag waving drones, but I don't get why anybody over the age of eight actually buys it.  I mean, there are millions of schools out there.  How in hell can yours be the best?  

Actually, let's back up a second.  I get the whole "My school is awesome!" thing.  My high school, for example, was pretty awesome.  What I don't get is the "My school is awesome and yours sucks!" thing.  I mean, there's no logical basis behind it.  Is there?  If you don't go to a school, how can you know if it sucks or not?  I know of which I speak. I went to Arizona State. Arizona State and the U of A have this rivalry thing that's, well, pretty epic.  And I won't bore you with all the stupid examples I saw during my 4 1/2 year sentence, but there were lots, okay?  And maybe I was just tired and cranky a lot (and I was; and not medicated, either), but I was always "For Christ's sake, can't we talk about something else?" whenever it came up. Because, honestly, I didn't much care who won the game of the week or got rated higher on the Playboy party schools list.  

I'fact, I got to wondering if the school spirit thing is the beginning of our culture's We vs. They.  I know, I talk about this a lot, but hey, I'm a Buddhist.  You wanna celebrate in-grouping, go find another blog.  I'm of the opinion that We vs. They is the cause of most, if not all, of humanity's problems, and if more people would figure out there is no They, it's all We, then maybe we could start solving some of them.  Let's face it, it's hard to solve problems when you're busy sorting people out into little boxes .  If They, for example, are Communists or terrorists or Aggies, then They are different from We and They can be discriminated against, shut out, killed or otherwise inc0nvenienced.  We can treat Them that way because They are not We.  The trouble is, when We single out a They and then treat Them badly, We are setting ourselves up for They to do the same thing to We.  Which inevitably leads to retaliation and another round of justifications for why They are not We and I could go on and on about this, but I'll stop now.  

In closing, an apocryphal tale:  I was at the university bookstore one evening near the end of my sentence.  A bunch of Josten's class ring people were in front of the store, passing out flyers and harassing passersby generally.  I watched one of the Josten's people come up to a weary-looking guy who was leaving the bookstore, having doubtless left all his money behind on the counter for the single book he was carrying.  Thereupon an exchange began, in which he apparently told her he was not interested and she would not take no for an answer.  At some point, she said something like, "But sir! Wouldn't you be interested in shiny chip of glass-like material that costs more than the down payment for a house to fondly remind you of your years at Arizona State?"  The guy looked at her and said, "Lady, I wanna forget I ever heard of this place."  

Now that's school spirit. Rah rah.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

59:17!!

July Swim for Distance Progress Report: 29,425 meters (about 18 1/4 miles)
Charities Benefiting: Mercy for Animals, Goods 4 Girls Africa, Survivors of Torture International and whatever my mom picked

Do not adjust your computer screen. That figure is not an error. Last night yours truly really did swim the Big Swim, the 2k race, in 59 minutes and 17 seconds.

You can't see this through my goggles, but I have my eyes closed.


That's approximately 100 meters every 3 minutes (I had two really fast ones at the beginning, 2:40 and 2:18, which is what got me under an hour).  That's almost a full ten minutes faster than last year.  Ten minutes.  Truly, I'm stunned. I was pretty sure I had a decent shot at breaking an hour but I somehow wasn't prepared for that when it actually happened.

I've done the Big Swim four times in four years, and this year was markedly different.  It seemed like it went by really fast, which I guess it did.  I usually start running out of air at about 800 meters, which didn't happen at all this year.  I also tend to start seeing things that aren't there, which probably goes hand in hand with running out of air.  That didn't happen this year either.  On the one hand, polar bears and Hillary Clinton in a white suit and spats make for entertaining diversions when you're swimming up and down a 50-meter pool over and over again.  On the other hand, I'd sort of rather have reality stay the way it is until I'm finished, if it's all the same to you.

(I'm just kidding about Hillary Clinton.  It was actually Karl Rove.  Brrr,)

Another thing:  Sometime before I'm halfway finished I tend to start wondering why in the hell I'm doing this, anyway, what does it prove, isn't this kind of stupid, all this backing and forthing.  That didn't kick in until around 1400 meters, way too late for it to affect anything (by that time you can see the finish line). And somebody, I forget who, told me to try playing my favorite album in my head, switching songs every 100 meters.  If you do that you won't lose count because you just figure out what song you're on and count backwards from there.  Whoever it was, thank you.  It worked brilliantly.

As "races" go, I came in dead last.  But who cares.  A long swimming race is like climbing Mt. Everest: Are you alive when you get to the top? Good.  Carry on. (And in the case of Mt. Everest, getting down alive is also kind of important.  Just ask Andy Harris.  Oh, wait, you can't.)

Big big thanks to my great friend and massage therapist, Kellum, who counted laps and kept time for me!  (And by the way, he is awesome, so if you need someone to rub you the right way, check him out at http://kjmassage.com.)  Big big thanks are also due to my swim instructor/coach, Douglas Moyse, who taught me a new breathing pattern leading up to the Big Swim and got me down to 1:17 on a typical 50.  Anybody who wants to swim faster and longer without killing himself/herself in the water should be dropping Doug an email: moyseswim@tx.rr.com.  He also coaches kids' swimming and is a great guy all around.

There are still a few days left in Swim For Distance Month.  I'm not sure I'll make the full 21 miles, but I shouldn't be too far off.  And now, I think I'll do something radical and go to bed early.  Because, let's face it, I'm kinda tired.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Postpone Me Not

July Swim for Distance Progress Report: 19,700 meters (about 12 1/4 miles)
Charities Benefiting: Mercy for Animals, Goods 4 Girls Africa, Survivors of Torture International
It's not too late! Pick a charity of your choice and sponsor me by the kilometer, the meter or the mile.  Put aside your chosen denomination of currency and send it to your charity at the end of the month.  Oh, and let me know which charity you picked so I can list it here.  You'll feel better, I'll feel better, your charity of choice will feel better. Win-win-win!

With another 11 days to go, I'm just over halfway to 21 miles for Swim for Distance Month.  That doesn't include The Big Swim, of course, which will happen next week (Oh God, that's only a week, I'm not ready yet, can I postpone?).  So that's pretty good.  I'm optimistic that I'll get there and post a nice total at the end of the month. Some years I've done upward of 25 miles in July, but 21's enough for this year.  And if I go over, great. Charities get a few extra bucks.  Next year I want to do the 5k instead of the 2k (that's 2 1/2 solid hours of swimming, minimum).  But I'll need to work up to it.  It's hard to contemplate 5k when the farthest I've ever managed was 2800.  Still, that's more than halfway there.  I wonder if I could get one of those waterproof iPods to wear while I'm swimming.  Always arguing that I could hear myself think over the splashing and the deep breaths and the pool noises.  You'd think it'd be pretty quiet underwater, but it's not. On the contrary, it's darn noisy.  Except for the very first moment when I jump into the pool.  It's like my ears take a second to adjust from land noises to water noises, and for that second there's this Absolute Silence like the beginning of the world.  Which, you have to admit, is pretty cool.

I've probably mentioned this before, but I don't exactly look like a swimmer.  Swimmers are tall, lanky people with long arms and impeccable midriffs.  I am short, fat and have li'l T-rex arms.  But you know what? I swim anyway, I swim with a masters team, and it's fine.  No, I'm not very fast (though I'm a heckuva lot faster than I once was).  Yes, I hang around in Lane Six with the older folks, the recovering-from-shoulder-injuries and other people who are, well, slow.  And that's okay.  Slow people get where they need to go. It just takes them longer.

Being fat, for a lot of people, means postponing everything.  "Oh, I'll go to Paris when I lose weight, I'll get a new dress when I lose weight, I'll start yoga when I lose weight."  I probably once did that, too, but I quit. I remember the day I quit pretty clearly, too.  I was probably 26 or so, and I kept driving by this karate school on the way to work.  Several times I thought, "I should really go in there and sign up," and the immediate thought following that was, "I can't do karate now. Maybe when I lose weight."  The irony being that that was almost a hundred pounds ago.  Well, anyway, one day I was driving by and I had the same thought, and I suddenly realized that I might never lose weight.  I might be fat for the rest of my life, and I would die having never tried karate because I was waiting to lose weight.  So I made the turn into the parking lot, went inside and signed up.  I took three classes a week for three years, made it all the way up to purple belt, and then quit during the great seismic shattering of 2001 when the Twin Towers fell and Stuart died and Joan's mom died and hey, it was not a good year.  'Nuff said.

The thing is, you don't have to be fat to postpone things.  I know all these people who have "bucket lists." Stuff they want to do before they die.  Why not do some of it now? I mean, you could die any time.  You could come down with some malignant neoplasm or get a terminal case of 18-wheeler.  I'm not sure if there's any time to regret stuff on the other side, but I'd hate to have the last thought that rushed through my mind at 80 miles an hour to be something like, "I should have taken up karate when I had the chance."  I mean, what a way to go out.  I'd much rather think something like, "Man, I had a good time."  Because I should.  We all should.

On that note, and because I have swimming on the brain, here's what a fat woman looks like in a bathing suit.  And don't let the sweet, innocent expression fool you.  I'm tough in the water.  Like a harbor seal.