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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Mini-Post: Stephen Hawking Ranted At Fat People Today. So I Ranted Back.

Stephen Hawking ranted at fat people today. So I ranted back.
Dear Mr. Hawking: 
Lots of obese people eat normally and take regular exercise. I swim 7 miles a week and eat about 1700 calories a day, on the average. Has that helped me lose weight? No, and I don't expect it ever will. It happens I just got my numbers back from the doctor. My total cholesterol is 143, my blood pressure is 120/80, my blood glucose is 106 and my A1C is 6.3.When I swim my heart rate goes up to about 135 and then settles down to a perfectly normal 70 beats per minute. So why do I weigh over 300 pounds instead of 150 or so? Put your amazing brain to that little puzzle, why don't you.
It's OK to be fat!!
Some people just are.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

I've Got Nothing to Say, So--

--I'll let these fine folks say it instead.

"BRITAIN:  Brexit is the stupidest, most self-destructive act a country could undertake.
USA: Here. Hold my beer."
--@bpedaci

"As someone who spent 15 months researching Trump's past statements, if anyone says they know what a President Trump will do they're lying."
--@kfile

"White people want to die. They want to eliminate all of the things they need to survive. Yo. Let them. Step out of the way. Let them go."
--Are0h

"Today is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. As someone who lost ancestors in the Holocaust, that shit is not lost on me."
--@modernistwitch

"It is interesting how Trump says he's going to drain the swamp but is bringing with him alligators like Christie, Giuliani & Gingrich."
--@azmoderate

"If you think folks who elected Trump would've been more amenable to Bernie being first Jewish US president, you missed what happened tonight."
--@breenewsome

"White supremacy isn't just voting for Trump. It's voting against him, then attributing his victory to reasons other than White supremacy."
--jshahryar

"Fahrenheit 11/9."
--@mmflint

"I find it fascinating how your first reaction is to blame *liberals* for conservatives electing a fascist."
--@fawfulfan

"look if you tell me to hug a trump supporter--
I am not gonna hug someone who voted my country into fascism.
I'm not gonna hug someone who thinks racism, misogyny, & xenophobia are good and/or passable.
Fuck that and fuck you."
--@libraryyeti

"Great Day to be a #Racist #Misogynist #Xenophobe #FASCIST   #WhiteTrash
Sad day to be someone true to our ideals."
--@zeitgeistghost

"One day we'll look back at the Dubya administration as the good ol' days when we were only fightin' 2 wars and losin' 800,000 jobs a month."
--@Teapainusa

"No matter how horrifically violent and terrible the action, white people desperately argue that their own "isn't evil/racist/etc.""
--@yeloson

"Trump supporters get to have the president they wanted. They don't get to have my good opinion of them as people, too."
--@cawkward

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Update - And The News Is...

...not that good, I'm afraid.  Joan saw the neuro-ophthalmologist  (who is quite the character -and the character I'd use is "officious prick", but no one asked me), and his conclusion is that the same thing happened to Joan's right eye that long ago happened to her left eye. That is, she had what was in effect a small stroke behind her optic nerve, which caused her optic nerve to swell up.  I don't know why your optic nerve would swell up if you lost blood, but then, I'm not a neuro-opthalmologist. Nor an officious prick.  Anyway, the swelling of the nerve is causing the loss of the visual field, and if they can get the swelling down, they might restore some sight. Maybe.  So Joan is taking huge doses of steroids to get the swelling down. Thank you and come back in three weeks.

But what caused all this, you are no doubt asking. How does a fifty-something person end up with a condition that normally only affects very elderly diabetics?  Well: It turns out there are a number of prerequisites for getting this, and Joan has every one of them.  The biggest and most important, though, is sleep apnea.

If you don't know what that is, relax. I'm going to tell you. Sleep apnea is where you stop breathing in your sleep.  You can stop for anywhere from a few seconds to almost a minute before your brain realizes it's not getting any oxygen and forces you to gasp for breath. This may wake you up, or not. The most common symptom is snoring, especially loud snoring. Another symptom is dreaming that you can't breathe, or startling awake breathing hard.  A lot of people have it and don't know it.  Older white males (50+) and black men under the age of 35 are the most likely to have it, especially if they're overweight, have a thick neck, smoke or have allergies/chronic nasal congestion.  Besides possibly causing you to go blind, sleep apnea can cause or make worse high blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain, diabetes, asthma and--get this--car accidents.  (That falling asleep at the wheel thing.)  So if your sweetie tells you you snore like a buzz saw, or if you wake up gasping for breath on a regular basis and there isn't a cat on your chest when this happens, please talk to your doc.  You may not have sleep apnea, but then again you might.

So Joan still can't see very well, and I'm still driving her around.  And we're still taking it day by day. I'm managing to get to the pool on a regular basis, mainly by taking Joan with me (she sits in the lobby and does cross stitch).  We're working on that whole public transportation thing, if only so she doesn't have to get up with me at five in the morning. And I guess that life is going on, mostly.

Therefore, it's time for me to say something about The Election.  Yes, I know: A couple of blog posts ago, I said I wasn't going to talk about The Election.  Further, I actively avoid news coverage of just basically anything, on the advice of my doc; it doesn't help my anxiety level, and generally it only takes about ninety seconds to find something that pisses me off.  However, because of recent events, I sort of have to say something.  I heard about these recent events on Twitter (where, if you want, you can follow me around @jenstrikesagain).  And look.  I don't care what sex you are, what species, what color or how long your ear tufts are: Donald Trump has said a ridiculously large number of things, both recently and ten years ago, that have revealed his true character and ruled him out of contention as someone who's fit to be President.

Now, I know some of you are Republicans.  (There's therapy for that now.  Just saying.)  And I'm not saying everybody should vote for Hillary, although I will be.  If I were a Republican (and I would be, if the Republicans of the Lincoln era or even the Theodore Roosevelt era were still around), I'd be freaking out right about now.  I'd be trying to decide if I should be voting for nobody (always an option), or writing in Lindsay Graham because, let's face it, it can't possibly hurt. I'd also be consoling myself that Trump was never really a Republican to begin with; like most cowards, he chose the gang he thought was deluded enough to let him in, and then he fought every person in it until he was the leader.  And I'd be apoplectic that my party was falling apart, but then I'd remember that political parties have split up many times throughout history, and the results were always new parties that were stronger and better than the original.  In fact, this might be an opportunity for the real Republicans to form their own gang, while the Christofascist do-what-we-tell-you-and-not-what-we're-doing demagogues get together in another sandbox and plot their own takeover of the free airwaves, the Supreme Court, the stock exchange and women's bodies.  But one thing I would definitely not be doing is voting for Trump.  I don't care if he's the nominee (our bad, for not nominating somebody like, say, Lindsay Graham again.  Or Colin Powell.  Or heck, even Janet Napolitano.)  When you're talking about the leader of the free world, you don't put someone in the job who lies compulsively, hires white supremacists as his advisers, is obviously utterly confused by this Constitution thing and advocates waterboarding.

Having said all that, I will finally get to my point.  Which is:  If you're still going to vote for Donald Trump, as is your right, I'd greatly appreciate it if you just didn't tell me.  Heck, I like you.  And I don't want to lose all the respect I have for you.

Friday, September 16, 2016

New and Exciting Medical Saga!

And here I thought this post would be about how I sent all the contributions to Heifer and they sent a nice letter back and named the water buffalo "Jim" and sent him to Southeast Asia.  Well, that's still going to happen (this week, I swear) but in the interim, Joan's having a new and exciting medical saga.  For anybody who doesn't know what's going on, Joan woke up about a week ago mostly unable to see out of her "good" eye.  She has a "bad" eye, too, where the visual field is limited, so to have the "good" eye poop out on her like this is not a good thing.  Obviously this is causing all kinds of problems, like you would expect if you were suddenly struck about half blind.  We've spent days in doctors' waiting rooms and testing facilities, and while we were at it, we hit Joan's out of pocket maximum. So at least everything's free from here.  

At this point there is no news, except that things are not getting better.  Nobody seems to be able to tell us if the eyesight will come back once they figure out what's causing the problem and start treating it.  Oh, and what could be the problem ranges from papilloedema, a condition caused by diabetes but usually on a much older person (don't Google it, it's scary) to a brain tumor, which is--well, I'm not gonna say anything more about that.  And all of that is incredibly sucky, but what I'm having the most trouble with now is just the sheer logistics of this thing.  

By that I mean, how to cope with the world when you can't see most of it.  I dunno if you've ever thought of that before, but it's a lot.  I mean, for example I've had to go through the house, and will have to do it again on a regular basis because we have a kitten, looking for trip hazards and things below radar that Joan could get hung up on. (And our house is an OSHA nightmare in that respect.  We're working on it, though.) There are some chores I've more or less taken over because I just don't think she can do them.  And of course there's driving.  When you can't see, you can't drive.  So now, instead of just driving myself around, I actually need to think about it, sit down and make a schedule; where Joan has to be when, when I need to pick her up, how long it'll take to get to here from there, and therefore, what time I can expect to, say, arrive at work.  Bonus, though; We're spending a lot of time together.  Kristen was right; that part is actually pretty cool.

(And just incidentally, my work has been great about all this.  No complaints about my lateitude or about my being gone on a semi-regular basis to take Joan someplace or other.  Essentially, they don't have to pay me while I'm not here, but that aside, they've been really nice.  And this may be coincidental, but one of the Downstairs Guys came upstairs to tell me he was running low on work and did I have anything for him.  Oh, honey.  Do I ever.)

And me? you ask.  Has my head exploded from the stress yet?  Well, actually no.  This is very Buddhist-y of me, but I've just been taking it one day at a time.  Say today is Thursday.  What time do we both need to be at work?  Any doctor's appointments? What time do I need to be at the library to pick Joan up?  What's for dinner?  And that's all I can really think about.  I don't deal with the long term possibilities because they're just flat-out beyond me. We'll have news when we have news.  It'll get better if it's going to get better.

(Of course, I can say that, right?  It's not like it's my eyes, after all.)  

But, seriously, this is a marriage.  And in a marriage, things change all the time.  You might not notice it, but if you take a look at yourself you'll realize you aren't the person you were ten years ago.  Everything's different now.  You're different now.  If you're married, you're in a different marriage than you were in ten years ago, even if you're still married to the same person.  You've plainly found a way, and many people don't, to navigate those changes with your partner.  Now, this is a particularly sucky change, and it's a big ugly nasty one, but still, it's a change.  The only way to handle change is to handle it together.

That's all I've got for now.  Sorry, but I've been really tired. Those of you that are in good with any particular deity, if you  wouldn't mind dropping him or her a line about Joan's eyes getting better, that would be great. And the checks go to Heifer tomorrow.  All I need is an envelope.  And a really good picture of a water buffalo.  

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Elizabeth Jane Vrabel, 1969-2016

Beth, heavily armed (as she generally was)
"Anyway, my sister called yesterday and it's not going to be that simple."
Beth rolled her eyes at me.  "You know perfectly well you don't have a sister."
"Dead?" Joan asked.
"Extradited.  It's a messy story, complete with a hooker, a chicken, 25 lengths of copper tubing, Lydia and a rubber llama suit."
--from The Great Cucumber Heist, by Jen, for Beth





Beth and Tera.
Beth and Tera and Jen and Joan were all friends in San Diego for a very long period of time.  Beth was the bridesmaid at Jen and Joan's wedding almost 20 years ago, to give you a time frame.  There were adventures too numerous to mention, but let's just say balloons were stolen, Zambonis were cheered for and the entire line at CVS Pharmacy was treated to some incredibly silly street theater, among other things.  Then Beth and Tera moved to Portland, OR and Jen and Joan moved to Dallas, TX, and they didn't see as much of each other, but still thought fondly of each other all the time and kept things silly on Facebook.

Beth died Sunday night of unknown but probably natural causes. We miss her terribly and probably always will.  

 

There have been plenty of good tributes on Facebook, from which I stole these pictures, but I thought it would be fitting to have one here, too.  Beth may no longer be with us, but her smile, her infectious spirit and most particularly her laugh will never be forgotten. Here's hoping she finds peace in the next world, or life, whichever it may be. 

 Incidentally, if anyone wants a cat, please comment below.  Beth had 3 and they are now homeless.  And that's about all I can say at this time.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mini-Post: FINITO!!

Oh thank God, it's August 1.  The last few days of July there I thought I was gonna die. Sore arms, sore shoulders and just plain tired from all the swimming.  I capped off July 31 with a 2-hour swim, 3200 meters, and subsequently overslept this morning and missed my first August swim entirely.  But that's okay.  The point is, SWIM FOR DISTANCE MONTH IS OVER!! and here are the results:

22.4 miles
32 km

That's not bad at all.  I aimed for 23 miles and did not miss it by much. Yay!  

So, if you were sponsoring me by the mile or the kilometer, or even if you weren't and you just want to contribute something, this would be a great time to send me a check.  Make it out to Heifer International, which is a charity that can be deducted from your taxes and all that.  I have not moved in 12 years so if you know my address, send it there. and if you don't, you can send it here:

attn. Jennifer Jonsson
Law Office of John M. Lozano
9900 Starlight Road
Dallas, TX 75220

And if you want to be anonymous, make the check out to me, instead, and I'll include it with my check.  Hey, I sponsored myself, too.  Only a fool wouldn't.  

Anyway, please get it in the mail by the 10th of August, if you can, and on the 15th I'll total everything up and see if Team Water Buffalo really managed to raise enough money for a water buffalo ($250.00.)  If not, no harm no foul; we can also buy goats, chicks, ducks and other aminals that cost less but will still bring great benefit to needy families all over the world.  I'm going to write a letter to Heifer and list everyone who contributed, so if you don't want to be included on that list, let me know. And of course I'll send you a copy of the letter, which I think works as well as a receipt for tax purposes.  

So thank you, everybody, for joining Team Water Buffalo and raising a little money to help poor families this year.  You are all awesome!! 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mini-Post: Mileage Report

Hello all.  Just wanted to let you know I clocked in at nineteen (count them: 19) miles this morning for our Swim for Distance Month, still with half a week to go.  I should easily hit 20 on Friday, there's still Saturday and if I manage a long swim on Sunday, I could even hit the fabled 23.  Either way, I'd say I've earned my t-shirt.  But will I have enough sponsor dough to buy a water buffalo
from Heifer International?  Or at least a goat, some chicks and a hive of bees or two or three?  Well, that all depends on you.  If I haven't hit you up yet, it's just because I haven't personally run into you.  By all means, consider yourself hit up.  Sponsor me by the mile or the kilometer (31.4 so far) and help some poor family in Nepal (or someplace in Asia--you can find the range of a water buffalo here) improve their situation.

So what's it like to swim 23 miles in a month's time, you ask.  Well, it involves swimming just about every day, weather permitting, and frankly, I am TIRED.  I've noticed when I lift heavy things, my arms are sore.  These back to back swims, where I swim one evening and then again eight hours later the following morning, are the worst.  There's just not enough muscle recovery time and the it's like swimming through peanut butter.  I'll be glad to go back to my usual 4-5 times a week.  Yeah, you'd think if you're swimming almost every day, anyway, what's so hard about throwing in two more days and staying in the water longer, but somehow it makes a big difference.  Like the big difference it would make for a poor family to have a water buffalo, and--nah, I already talked about that.

One thing I'm pretty sure I haven't mentioned is how nice it is to be upside down in the water (doing a flip turn) and be listening to Beethoven at the same time. In case y'all missed it, my awesome sister Kristen bought me an underwater iPod last Christmas and it's just been the best gift ever.  I think classical music works best for long sets and rock is best for speed sets, but the important thing is giving my brain something to do besides count laps. I'm already plotting out what I'm going to listen to for the Really Long Swim in September. So thank you, Kristen! and cheers, all.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Mindful Swimming

So something happened yesterday that's probably happened about a million times before, but I didn't notice for whatever reason.  Probably because I wasn't being mindful, which, you know, a Buddhist kind of should be.  Ironically, Thich Nhat Hanh's school of Buddhism, which is my particular sect, is All About Being Mindful; my Buddhist name, for Godsakes, is "Deepening Mindfulness of the Source," which is pretty Jedi, when you think about it.

But anyway. I woke up in a bad mood, which happens.  I kind of grumped around the house having coffee and getting ready and so on, and then I went to the pool. There was a New Guy in my lane.  This is not surprising; new guys often show up in my lane because I swim in what we shall call the Slow Lane, with the older guys and the guys recovering from injuries and the guys who, for whatever reason, don't want to swim in the Fast Lane with the ex-Olympians and the 30-year-old doctors and, you know, the kings of the water.  (And they are mostly guys, now that I think about it.  We probably have twice as many men as women.  It's a pretty egalitarian sport, but I bet women have more trouble getting out of the house at 5 am to get to the pool what with kids and pets and jobs and--stuff.)  So the first question that always comes up is, "Does the New Guy know the rules?"  There are a couple of different ways to share a lane--like circling, going up one side and down the other side, or splitting, where each of you stays in one half of the lane. and I could tell this guy didn't know the rules because he was kind of all over the place. In that circumstance it's not very safe to jump in and start swimming because there could be a collision, so I jumped into the water and just waited by the wall for him to come back from the other end so we could Discuss.

And an amazing thing happened.  I guess I never noticed this before because I normally jump in and then immediately push off and start swimming, and in this case I was just holding still, but the second I jumped into the water, the happiness meter started going up.  I swear, it was like watching the mercury increase on an oven timer; I came in grumpy, I jumped in the water, and just by being in the water my mood started to improve.  Never mind the actual swimming.  When I started actually swimming, my mood just shot up.  Sure, exercise and endorphins and all that, but still, this was pretty remarkable.  Instant happy, just add water.

And speaking of swimming, how's the swim-for-distance thing going?  Pretty good.  I'm at  19.7k or 12 and a quarter miles.  I still have the better part of two weeks, so it looks like I'll hit at least 20 miles and hopefully 23.  This Sunday I'm hoping to do a double session, or a session and a half, which comes to at least an hour and a half in the water and 2700-3000 meters.  The big 5k swim is in September and I lost a lot of ground when I was out with a month with pneumonia, but we'll see how that goes.  Somebody told me recently that there's a two-hour limit on the 5k swim, anyway.  There's absolutely no way I will get fast enough to swim 5k in 2 hours (more like 2 1/2, maybe even closer to 3) but I can probably swim between 3500 and 4000, and that's a lot.  (Hm, maybe I'll take bets on whether or not I hit 4000.  Proceeds to go to some charity.  Not sure which one.  There are a lot of them out there.)

I have several sponsors pledging me by the kilometer or the mile, with all proceeds going to Heifer, International, but I could always use more.  It's easy; just be around when I post my final tally at the end of the month and send me a check, made payable to Heifer (which is tax deductible and all that) so that I can mail it with all the other checks and a nice letter from everybody.  If I raise $250, we can buy a water buffalo for some family in Southeast Asia, which would be cool.  If not, we can still buy goats and chickens and hives of bees and so on. Farm animals make a huge difference in the lives of poor families and they are not to be eaten, so there's something for the vegetarians.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Good News at a Bad Time

It's been nothing but good news all week.

First, and by far the most important, the Supreme Court threw out Texas's omnibus "make abortion completely inaccessible for most people who live outside the big cities and don't have lots and lots of money" law in a 5-3 split that marked the most significant court decision on abortion since--oh, well, since Roe v. Wade, probably.  Cutting through a mass of legal gobbledygook, the Court stated very clearly that states can't just go around slapping new regulations on abortion clinics to drive them out of business.  Which prompted the part-time Texas governor and full-time asshole Greg Abbott to accidentally admit that's what he was trying to do all along.  Now all we need is for somebody to admit that what anti-abortion activists are really all about is trying to punish women for having sex and we'll start having this discussion in an atmosphere of intellectual honesty.  Which would be refreshing.

Next, a much less significant Court here in Texas allowed the reinstatement of a lawsuit it had pitched out, and in a shocking twist, the Court even admitted that a "clerical error" might have led to the dismissal of the lawsuit in the first place.  It's a small thing, but I'll take it.  It beats the hell out of having to refile the petition, repay the $300-odd fee, re-serve all the defendants (presuming I can even find them again), and all the other stuff we'd need to do if we hadn't been able to get it reinstated.  So kudos to my boss, for good arguing at the hearing.  And me, for writing a good motion.  Rah.

And finally:  I have a new project.  I haven't the foggiest idea what it is, though I'm kicking around a few things, but I have a new project.  I have mentioned Rhett from Jinks, Oklahoma before, but only in passing and not as "the really cool guy I met at the Pen to Press Writer's Conference in 2010 and we're still friends all these years later."  So Rhett is this really cool guy--right.  And a couple of days ago I finally got up the nerve to ask him if he wanted us to write something together.  And he said yes.  Whoo hoo!!  So again, we don't know what we're going to do yet, but we're going to do something.  I'm leaning toward a suspense thriller with lots of blood, chapter cliffhangers, shocking "Game of Thrones" style deaths and the occasional gallows humor.  If you knew Rhett (and you should, because again, he's really cool) you'd probably think that's his kind of thing, too.

So anyway, it's all been good news.  And me?

Well...

Let's see here.  On Monday I became elated that a Big Country song was on the radio and a few minutes later started sobbing because it reminded me of my ex, who died recently, and now I'll never know why blah blah blah etc. etc.

On Tuesday, I caught myself driving 80 mph on the freeway.

On Wednesday, I had a complete meltdown at the gym and cried for ten minutes because I was so upset about the way our society treats fish.

And on Thursday, I called my doctor and said, "Something jist ain't right here."

Yep. After three or four years of being stable and pretty much asymptomatic, I'm suddenly spiking bipolar symptoms all over the place again for no apparent reason.  It's been kind of like having a storm of little earthquakes.  Either that's the fault line settling into a new and more stable position, or it's the buildup to the Big One and who the hell knows which?  So it's been pretty scary. I mean, I like being asymptomatic.  It's almost like being Normal.

However, This Does Happen. Things change, people change, haircuts change, body chemistry changes and sometimes doses of meds that have worked for a long time don't work anymore.  My doc upped my dose of something or other to see if that would help.  (Again, psychiatry is a lot like alchemy; you try a little bit of this and a little bit of that, try to find a good drug cocktail that treats the most obvious symptoms while not killing you with side effects, and if you happen to turn lead into gold at the same time, good on ya.)  So far, I have an upset stomach and I'm more scatterbrained than usual.  Oh, and I had a migraine yesterday, but that could be coincidental.  So I'm typing with crossed fingers because seriously, that's not bad at all.

And so July arrives, not with a bang but a whimper.  July, of course, is Swim for Distance Month for my swim team.  We try to swim as far as possible in the alloted 31 days, and the winner gets some cheesy prize, but I'm never going to come anywhere close to winning because I just don't swim that fast.  I am, however, shooting for 23 miles, which will be tough but doable.  (Think a mile a day for 23 days out of 31.  Again, should be doable.)

Also, I am once again inviting people to pledge me by the mile, the meter, or just generally for the 23 miles, or however far I get.  If you want to toss in a dollar a mile, or 50 cents a kilometer, or whatever you're comfortable with, that would be great.  I'll post regular updates here and all money raised (which is usually not a lot; I don't have many rich friends) will go to Heifer International, which is a nonprofit that helps people in poverty by giving them animals to raise. (Donations are tax deductible.) It's hard to imagine if you live in the United States or anywhere else in the 1st World, but an animal can make a huge difference to a family living in poverty.  A goat, for example, will give milk, which both helps with nutrition and can also be made into cheese and sold.  Also, a goat can get together with another goat and make baby goats, which can then be sold to other families and help them, too. In fact, a pair of goats can benefit a whole village. So Heifer's pretty neat.  I'd love to raise enough money to buy a water buffalo ($250.00).  You know, swimming, water buffalo--sort of follows, doesn't it?


Last thing:  I finally saw an announcement about that 5000 meter race I was going to enter.  It will be in mid-September. Actual date to follow shortly.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Another Saturday Night of Wild and Reckless Abandon.

So it's Saturday night.  Across the globe, couples dance and drink in seedy bars, go to sporting events, throw parties, take in movies, go on wild crime sprees that always end in a Tijuana prison cell, lying on the floor with a nude Barbie doll.  And I?  Well, I'm at Half Price Books.  Typing away.

Why Half Price Books, you might ask.  Well, two reasons.  One, they have free wi-fi, though half the time I'm not able to get my laptop to talk to it (ie, tonight).  There are also lots of tables in the common area, and some of them face the aquarium.  I'm big on aquariums.  I miss my fish.  There's also a little coffee shop that sells fine Italian sodas and decadent sweet things that I'm not supposed to have.  But most importantly, Half Price Books isn't my house and doesn't have a ten-week-old kitten gallumphing at high speed around corners and down hallways, causing hiss fests with other cats and occasionally launching herself at my feet in a brutal takedown attack that's evidently supposed to render me footless (no luck there so far).

Besides, Starbucks is too pricey and when I order something as mundane as a regular coffee, all the overdressed rich women who apparently have nothing better to do than hang out there look at me like I'm crazy.

Mainly, I just like to get out behind my desk and go out into the wild.  You know.  Libraries.  Bookstores.  Coffee establishments.  Anywhere I can sit, look busy, type fast and deflect curiosity.  I used to do my blog posts at Afrah and then one night this like 18-year-old waiter tried to pick me up, not realizing I was old enough to be his mother (which was nice, if a little awkward).  I still go to Afrah sometimes, but tonight I'm at Half Price.  There's no pita bread here, unfortunately.

And how's the writing going, anyway, you ask.  Well, it's been better.  I've been kicking around a small thing that I'll probably go back and work on in a few minutes here, and I've got another thing that's basically done but needs some major slash and burn editing, and there's another one that's almost done but I think I'm going to have to go back some 80 pages from the end, just chop them the hell off and make it all happen differently.  Which I'm not up for at the moment.

The truth is, I haven't been very excited about anything I've written since I finished the increasingly inaccurately named Mindbender trilogy.  (Quadrology? Quintology?)  I've been able to get angry enough to write something Serious (the thing that's basically finished), but I'm not sure I hit the point I'd been trying to make and I'm equally not sure I can make it hit that point, regardless.  I also have a major time crunch that I didn't have during the Mindbender era (swimming) and very little time in the evenings to sit down with a keyboard.  Most of the thing that's basically finished was written on the fly, longhand, between appointments, in waiting rooms and wherever else I happened to be when I had a few minutes.  Which is one way to go about it, I guess.  Transcribing it was a lot of fun, though.  You should see my handwriting.  No, you probably shouldn't.  You've seen what happens when you whack a bug and splatter its guts all over the wall, haven't you?

(By the way, whacking a bug is a big Buddhist no-no.  It's better to usher them outside.  I usually scream for Joan, which is sort of outsourcing my violations of the First Precept.  You know, like the United States exports its industrial pollution by manufacturing goods in countries that don't have the strict environmental laws we have here.)

So I'm here, and I'm gonna try to write something, but in the meantime, I just made a modest proposal that might lead to yet another project.  I hope so.  I'm probably going to shut off my Internet connection now just to avoid having to read whatever comes back, but let it be known that I proposed it.  Whatever it is.

And I hope I get to tell you whatever it is very soon.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No News

Yes, I know it's been a while since I've posted.  I'd claim it's because the kitten's not sleeping through the night, but she is, finally.  And how.  She does this thing where she runs through the house at full tilt, chases a toy, pounces on one of the other cats (much to their displeasure, but that sure doesn't stop her), and tears around until suddenly she stops, just wherever she happens to be, keels over and falls asleep.  It's pretty amazing. I mean, like 60 to zero in two seconds.  Oh, and for the record, the kitten now has a name, which is Artemis. I think she knows it because her ears prick up when someone says it, but they also prick up when someone says "kitten" or "food" or "toy" or "treat."

No, mostly it's that there's only one thing anybody's allowed to write about right now. and I don't wanna write about it.  So I'm not writing about anything.  Well, except for the stuff that starts out, "COMES NOW Plaintiff GOODGUY and complains against Defendant WEASEL, as follows..."  You probably think I'm talking about what went down in Orlando, but actually, I'm not.  What went down in Orlando will be The Only Thing To Write About for another couple of days, maybe, but then everyone will lose interest, and we'll all go back to our collective digital cocoons, communicate only with people who think exactly the same way we do, and do absolutely nothing about it, just like we did with Fort Hood and Aurora and Virginia Tech and Columbine and San Bernardino and...

No, what I'm talking about is The Election.

Yeah. That Election.

Now, you have to remember here that I'm Not Supposed To Watch The News.  I'm actually under doctor's orders not to watch the news and to stay away from Web sites like CNN and Huffington Post and Yahoo News.  Why?  Because Watching The News Upsets Me.  If I go into my doctor's office and he asks me how I've been and I say I've been a little down, the first thing he wants to know is if I'm watching the news.  And if I cop to maybe hanging around the Yahoo comments section longer than it takes to determine that it's an absolute sewer, he will get this very doctory sort of look, peer at me over his glasses and say, "Don't. Watch. The. News."

So, by definition, it would be hard to write about The Election, or anything else I know nothing about.  Unfortunately, I do know a fair amount about The Election, and I didn't get it from watching the news, either.  For example, I'm on Twitter (and you can follow me around at @jenstrikesagain if you ever feel like it).  Plenty of people tweet about The News on Twitter.  They may only say it in 140 characters, but that's really all you need; anything more is bombast and rhetoric.  Plus, people talk about newsy things at the office.  I've more or less got my colleagues convinced not to talk about bariatric surgery, but darned if I can get them to avoid chatter about The Election.

Anyway, I don't have to know a lot about The Election.  I pretty much know what I need to know.  There's a seasoned public servant who has been in several major national and international roles, and has done very well, up against--well, that other guy.  You can probably guess who I'm voting for, even if it won't matter because my state is going with Ted Cruz (and never mind if he's actually still running).  So I know what I need to know.  And I'm not.  Repeat not.  Going to write. About. It.

So that's my story and you won't see it on The News.  And since posts about The Election are both boring and depressing, I'm going to close out this blog post with a picture of Artemis, who has tripled in size in only three weeks.





Friday, May 20, 2016

'Nother Mini-Post: Kitten!

Well, I came home from work yesterday and lo and behold, we have a kitten.  Joan picked her up from the side of the road and took her straight to a vet. She checked out OK. Unless we start seeing a lot of signs around the nabe for a lost kitten, we seem to have a new family member.  No name yet, although we're kicking a couple around. The older cats are hating on her right now, so everybody has to be supervised 24/7 (or else kitten has to be closed in a room by herself, which isn't a great solution).  She likes to play at 2 am and eats like a horse (or a kitten, in this case).   More details (and a name) to follow.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Mini-Post: Damn, I Got Old Quick.

In case anybody wants to know what it's like to jump back into the pool after a month away and a lot of that resting in bed, the answer is, IT SUCKS. I feel like I've gone back in time to the month I started with the swim team way back in '07.  I get extremely tired, I take hits from my inhaler because I get so winded and I actually get out of the water with sore shoulders and arms.  Last Sunday I swam 1800, my longest distance since I started back.  Yeah.  1800.  When I was turning in like 3200 at least once a week and training up to 5000.  If that 5000 meter race were really in July, as originally scheduled, I'd be screwed. The rumor now is that it's going to be in September.  I'd like to say September is no problem and I'll be back to fighting form in nothing flat, but then I also said I'd be over this pneumonia thing in a week and that didn't exactly work out, so I'm hesitant for my brain to start writing checks my body may not be able to cash.

So I realized today that I've gotta do what I've been putting off doing.  I gotta go back to the gym and start lifting weights again.  I'm no Arnold Schwartzenbarfer, but I used to lift weights and it helped my swimming a lot.  I gotta build up those wing muscles.  Luckily there is an LA Fitness right down the street from my office, and if I actually leave on time I should be able to squeeze in a good 30-45 minutes on Tuesday and Thursday nights.  Again, that's leave ON TIME, not whenever I get to a logical stopping point.  I could feasibly work all day and all night for weeks and I'd never get all the stuff done that I'm supposed to do.  But I do keep us two steps ahead of the next crisis, and sometimes that's all you can ask for.  Especially in a law firm.

In other news, I'm going to turn 47 in a couple of weeks here.  This means I'm no longer in my middle forties; I am now in my late forties.  Joan, who just turned 57, is probably laughing at me right now, but the other day it occurred to me that I'm probably past the mystical halfway point, unless I plan on living to be 96.  Yep. Half my life is already in the can and I'm working on the second half.

So what am I gonna do for the second half, you ask.  Well, let's see. I think I'm going to hang around with family and friends as much as possible, share big laughs and small stories, and be as unserious as possible.  I'm planning on a little more meditation and a little less anxiety.  Less sugar, for sure, more fruits and vegetables.  Less wasted time on the news (I'm not supposed to watch the news; it upsets me).  More trips to Austin.  Fewer doctor's appointments.  And who knows, maybe I'll write something.  Else.  Something else.

By the way, it's Mental Health Awareness Month.  So be aware.





Tuesday, May 3, 2016

That Convention, And Sugar, and Stuff.

Apologies for the greater-than-usual space between blog posts here, everybody, but I've been really sick. I mean about as sick as I've ever been in my whole life, not counting the time I was in the hospital for a week with abscessed tonsils, and definitely sicker than I've been in at least ten years.  It started out as a bad cold that I picked up at the convention.  After a week it still wasn't gone, so I saw a doc-in-the-box because I couldn't get in to my Regular Doc. That happens sometimes.  They examined me (poke, prod) and did an X-ray (inconclusive) and decided that I had the beginnings of pneumonia.  So off I went to the pharm to get antibiotics, which then proved their worth by doing absolutely nothing.  Well, I was maybe feeling incrementally better, but I wonder how much of that was popping ibuprofen to keep the fever down and guzzling cough syrup and nebulizer fluid so I could breathe.  And yes, I did keep going to work, mostly, though I took a few of the worst days off.  I sort of had to.  It's a small firm and if I ain't here, stuff don't get done. (I had this horrible feeling we'd end up going to trial, but that didn't happen, thankfully.  Me in a suit at the plaintiff's table coughing up Lung McNuggets every five minutes would have just made a great impression on the jury, I'm sure.)

Then my ears and throat went south on me. Both ears swelled up so I couldn't hear, and my voice got so distorted I could either speak in a whisper or AT A SHOUT but nothing in between.  So back I went to the doc (the Regular Doc, this time) and he said, "Well, whatever they gave you isn't working, let's give you something else." And some prednisone, which I completely hate because it wreaks all possible badness on you, from making your face break out and your nails split to making you gain five pounds because you're hungry all the time. But, it also lets you breathe, and let's face it, breathing is kind of a good thing.  And I'm pleased to report that the Something Else has finally started to work. Meaning, one of my ears has opened up, I have a voice at a more reasonable volume and the coughing has pretty much stopped, except for occasional rattles.

But I am still pretty sick. So, I'm still not Doing Anything.  Anything I don't have to do, I mean.  Just going to work and then going home and resting.  I've been staying in bed all weekend, too.  I haven't been to my meditation group or OA meetings in three weeks, and I'm gonna miss all of this week, as well.  I haven't been in the pool since I think April 8 (Joan's mom's birthday; always a memorable date even if she's not with us anymore).  I hired a guy to do the lawn, which I can't afford, but I also can't push a lawn mower around and at the rate it keeps raining around here, the entire house could disappear under the lawn if I let it go more than a week.  You don't wanna see what the interior of the house looks like, either, though I've kept up with the laundry and the dishes pretty well.  When one of us is sick, the slack just don't get picked up.  It's like somebody hit "pause" in early April and the tape just hasn't really gotten rolling yet.

So for anybody who's missed me, that's where I've been.  If I'm breathing all right I'm going to try to get back in the pool this Saturday, which coincidentally is the last Baylor Saturday swim until fall.  Forget the long distance stuff for now.  I mean really, forget it.  I have fond hopes of making it to 1200 meters my first time out. Realistically it'll be June before I can knock off 2000 meters, and if the 5000 meter race were in July, like it usually is, I'd be pretty worried right about now.  But it's not. Rumor has it they're kicking it to September because the water was so warm last year that some people got sick (hey, it's an outdoor pool, and it's summer in Texas).  Rumor also has it that they're canceling the whole thing. Now that last part would suck, but I am but a minion in the swimmer heirarchy and not in charge of things like scheduling. If they do cancel it, though, I will find some other race to swim in, even if it's not as long.  There's a great one in June, that I won't be ready for, but you have to raise like $500 just to start anyway and it's for cancer research, which is not my favorite charity.  Cancer research gets plenty of money.  Women of color, torture survivors, underprivileged kids and cooperatives that foster economic development by way of providing farm animals to needy families, not so much.

But anyway.  Back before I got sick, I went to this convention.  This was Overeaters Anonymous Dallas's annual convention, and I was also on the planning committee (though, as they say, I was not on the results committee).  It was pretty well attended; about 130 people, not counting the streams of small children that came and went from the conference room next to us and kept shouting stuff for Jesus.  (Really, they were better mannered than most groups of conventioneers, but they were kind of loud.)  I ran around handing out serenity coins and was in a skit and so forth and suchlike. And I might have actually learned something, which, you have to admit, doesn't happen every day.

The main speaker was what we would call a "Big Book thumper."  If you're not familiar with AA parlance, the Big Book is the blue book called "Alcoholics Anonymous" that was first published in the 1930s and is still pretty much upheld as the single most important work in the literature of addiction and recovery.  OA is based on AA so it follows the same principles, the Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions and all of that.  If you wanna know more about this stuff and the history of and so on, check out any of the videos on this page or this article.  Anyway, in the Big Book, there's a paragraph right before it lists the Twelve Steps that reads something like, "Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path."  (And just for the record, I love that 1930s parlance.  "Rarely have we seen a person fail..." Doesn't that sound better than "You won't screw this up if..."?)  And the speaker was reading this section to make a point about something or other, which completely escapes me now, but one word of it stood out in my head in great big letters with glossy highlighting and multiple exclamation points.

The word in question was, "thoroughly." The thought I had at the time was, "I ain't doin' this right."

I mean, we know I'm addicted to sugar.  (And if you didn't know that, now you do, so you can be included in the great royal We.)  That's not a secret.  If you're addicted to anything, you're not going to recover unless you get rid of the stuff.  With alcohol, this is simple, if not exactly easy.  Look at the ingredients.  If it says, "Contains alcohol," you don't drink/eat it. Simple.  With sugar, though--Sugar is ubiquitous.  There's lots of it around, too.  It's in everything from the bread you buy at the store to ketchup (yes, ketchup actually contains enough sugar that the American Diabetes Association recommends you phase it the hell out of your diet, or at least your kids' diet.  No foolin'.).  Peanut butter has 3 grams of sugar in it per serving, unless you're buying the "natural" kind, like we do.  Even stuff that tells you it has "no added sugar" probably still has plenty of sugar, in the forms of corn syrup, fructose, galactose and so on (because our government lets food manufacturers list these separately with food ingredients like they aren't really sugars, which they are). So it's probably impossible to entirely get rid of added sugar in your diet.  However, just because it's impossible to be perfect doesn't mean you can't try really hard to get rid of as much of it as possible, and when I took a look at how hard I was trying, the answer was basically, "Not very."

I mean, yes, I don't eat most junk foods anymore, and I try to stay away from stuff that's made to be sweet, like cakes and cookies and things like that.  But there were loopholes.  I'd somehow convinced myself that frozen yogurt, for example, had less sugar than ice cream and was therefore okay to eat. (Which it does, but not much less, and it varies by type and flavor, so it's really not a good guideline at all.)  There were two other foods I couldn't seem to stop eating, either.  Chocolate and breakfast cereal.  Yeah, breakfast cereal doesn't really seem to be a big deal, but if you stop and look at the package labels, a lot of breakfast cereals have a heck of a lot of sugar in them.  And chocolate--well, it's chocolate. Even the bitter varieties that I was eating to ward off menstrual cramps (which did work, actually, though the success kind of came and went) still have plenty of sugar in them.  I get a serious, mad rush from added sugar.  If I snarf down something with a lot of sugar in it, especially on an empty stomach, something happens to me that's very much like what I imagine cocaine would be like.  I could never afford cocaine to test this theory, though.

So I came back from this convention pretty well convinced that I had to get rid of as much sugar as possible. And then I got really sick, and I ate whatever was there because I didn't have the energy to cook, so I'm kind of just starting now.  I've been able to quit the frozen yogurt (partially because it's expensive; I mean like $5 a fix--that's almost as much as a dime bag of heroin).  I've been able to quit the breakfast cereal, because Joan buys the groceries and I told her to quit buying it and she did and we ran out and now there isn't any.  I'm not sure about the bitter chocolate, though I made it through this last menstrual cycle without munching on any of the stuff.  But I'm pretty optimistic I can pop ibuprofens instead of bitter chocolate and the world won't end.

So now it's time to look at all the little things.  Read labels.  Check ingredients.  Figure out ways to get the amount of added sugar down to as little as possible.  I think I'm going to have to start making my own bread again, for one thing, because I know how much sugar I put in bread when I make it (very little) and I know how much is in the loaves you buy at the store (lots).  Oh, that's just heartbreaking, being forced to make my own bread (I love making bread, though I don't actually eat that much of it).  I'm making breakfast smoothies with tofu instead of plain yogurt, because plain yogurt actually has 8 to 10 grams of added sugar in it (yogurt! Plain yogurt!) whereas tofu has none whatever (and it's cheaper, too).  You have to blend it longer, but that's okay.  I will be eating a lot of fruit.  I love fruit, it's sweet, and because there's all that fiber and nutrition and stuff in it, it doesn't hit my brain like a cocaine rush. I can happily eat fruit instead of sugary things.  Well, mostly happily.  Well, sometimes grudgingly.

But I'm gonna do it.  What's more, I'm gonna do all that other stuff, like call people (I hate calling people; maybe I'll just text people) and work on the Steps and all that. I think Joan would call this "drinking the Kool-Aid," but hey, I'm a nicer person without the sugar.  I'm like actually sponsoring somebody now, which means I have to be responsible and set a good example.  Bleah.  Today I managed a 15-minute walk at lunchtime.  And I'm getting right back into the pool.  As soon as I can breathe, that is.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mini-Post: The Visitor

(not for arachnophobes)

So I went to this conference over the weekend, and I definitely want to talk about that, but first I have to tell you about something that happened this morning.  I'm at the pool, right, and I'm swimming, right, and I pull up at the other end of my lane to, I dunno, change fins or something, and there on the lane line is a big creepy bug.

You know what lane lines are, right? They're made up of numerous plastic circles and they stretch across the lane, dividing it from the next lane and breaking up any waves that form, right?  Well, there's this bug, sitting on top of the lane line like he owns it.  Now, I don't like creepy bugs, and I definitely don't want one in the water with me, and it's bound to end up in the water if it's sitting on the lane line.  So I try to get it onto my kickboard so I can flick it away toward the Aquatics Office, where there's a handy drain and some plants and stuff where a creepy bug will probably be fine.

Swim paddle
It will not cooperate. Every time I try to get it onto the kickboard, it goes to hide between two of the plastic circles.  So finally I swim down to the other end of the pool, grab one of my paddles and swim
back.  Aha, now I have a scoop-like thing that I can use to push this guy onto the kickboard.  But he still doesn't want to go.  He crawls down the other side of the lane line.  Then he crawls between two of the plastic circles. Then, finally, he climbs on top of the lane line and cusses me out.

Well, that's what it looks like he's doing, anyway.  He's waving his forelegs and carrying on.  And at this point I lose my temper. I say, "Look.  If you sit here, you're going to get hit by a wave sooner or later, and you're going to end up on the bottom of the pool and you're going to die.  And I don't want you in the water with me, because you might end up on my head or something and then I'll have apoplexy and maybe stroke out.  So if you would please get up on this fucking kickboard, right now, I'll get you out of here and then we'll both be happy.  Okay?"

(This must have been great for my fellow swim team denizens. "Hey, Coach, the fat lady's talking to a lane line.")

Anyway, right after I finish this speech, the creepy bug turns around and climbs right up the kickboard.  Thanking God, I take my swim paddle and flick him toward the Aquatics Office.  He rolls across the floor just like a marble.  And I'm thinking "mission accomplished" and I'm about to get back to what I'm doing when suddenly he explodes.

Well, that's what it looks like, anyway.  Lots of little pieces fly in all directions.  But the pieces are--moving.  And they appear to be running after the creepy bug, which is running down the drain.

And then it hits me.  It's not a bug.  It's a spider.  A big spider.  With babies.  Lots and lots of babies.

I can't see very well with my goggles on, you see.  They're not prescription.

So I can't decide which is creepier.  That there might be thousands of baby spiders crawling all around near the pool, or that spiders can apparently understand English.  I mean, I've heard they're fairly intelligent, figure out mazes in laboratories pretty quick and stuff like that, but mastering communication with big beings like me?  I mean, that's pretty amazing.  And creepy.

And I thought, what about when you're in one of those bad situations that you have absolutely no idea how to fix, and it looks completely hopeless, and suddenly something changes and it all turns out okay?  Is that something like a higher being coaxing us up onto a kickboard so it can flick us and our babies out of harm's way? Because if it is, I'll bet that happens all the time.  Only we're not spiders, so we don't know it.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

He Had Me At "Motherf___er"

So a little while ago, Joan showed me how to load a "podcast app" on my cell phone.  In case I forgot to tell you this, my new car talks to my cell phone. Put one inside the other and I can talk to people through my stereo speakers and stream music from Pandora.  Which is pretty cool.  But not nearly as cool as having a "podcast app." I've subscribed to a couple of podcasts, including one about history, one about space science and two or three about Buddhism.

I have, most of the time, a half-hour commute to work.  Sometimes a little longer.  I'm seriously annoyed to discover that for ALL THIS TIME I could have been learning stuff on the way to and fro. I have, like, six months of lost time to make up for.  So there's not a minute to lose.  At the moment I'm making my way backwards through what is by far the coolest podcast I've ever discovered.  It's called "The 12-Step Buddhist" and it is absolutely awesome.

It's run by a guy named Darren Littlejohn.  He's a yoga instructor, "life coach" (whatever that is--I have yet to hear a good definition) and a few other things.  He's also a person in recovery who happens to be a Buddhist.  He's Tantric and I'm Tiep Hien but the principles are basically the same, and best of all, he's addressing the fundamental thing, the thing that gets you in the most trouble in 12-step meetings of any stripe when you bring it up: Despite all that talk about defining a Higher Power of your own understanding and that the Twelve Steps should work with any faith or even the lack thereof, the Program is very, very Judeo-Christian.

Really, there's no way of getting around that, no matter what they tell you at meetings.  The Twelve Steps came out of the Oxford Group's Six Steps and those were based on the Bible.  The Oxford Group was a Christian mens' organization and it didn't change much when it morphed into Alcoholics Anonymous.  The people who wrote the Big Book were Christian, and the way the whole Program was set up followed typical Christian principles.  (In fact I was once told that if I didn't become a Christian, immediately, I would never recover. No kidding. I've been told a lot of stupid things by a lot of stupid people.) Sure, technically you can work the Program if you're a Hindu or a Muslim or even a pagan, but all of those faith systems presuppose a belief in some kind of deity, whatever you happen to call it.  Buddhism doesn't presuppose that (and doesn't deny it, either).  If you try to get a straight answer from ten Buddhist monks as to whether or not there's a God, you'll get twenty different answers and 400 deep discussions.  So if you need a Higher Power, and your tradition doesn't really have one, what's a Buddhist to do?

Well, one could do a lot worse than listen to Mr. Littlejohn's podcast or read his book, The Twelve-Step Buddhist.  It came out in 2009 and he's written other books since.  While you're at it, you might wanna pick up Mel Ash's The Zen of Recovery, as well; I think I've mentioned him on this blog before.  But back to Mr. Littlejohn.  The parallels here are a little eerie.  He moved to San Diego fairly recently.  During one of his blog posts, a big airplane flew overhead, and I thought, "I know exactly where he lives.  He lives in Little Italy."  (Or maybe Banker's Hill, but my money's on Little Italy.)  He talked about Overeaters Anonymous for a while in another one of his posts, which was awesome because personally, I think OA gets ignored in the recovery community.  (I mean, it's just food, right?  It's not illegal to possess it and nobody's going to kill you if you deal in it.)  But the thing that really got me was his explanation of what it's like to be enlightened vs. not enlightened.

Paraphrasing very roughly here:  Let's say you're an alcoholic.  You drink, you rage, you yell at your loved ones, you cause a lot of misery.  The next day you wake up, realize that you caused a lot of misery, and you're miserable.  So you drink more, to feel better.  And you rage again and you yell again and then the next day you--yeah.  And this keeps going on and on because you don't realize addiction is a sickness, you don't know that you're sick, you don't grok that your sickness is following a predictable path, and you don't understand that there's even a way to get out of it, much less that you might succeed if you give it a try.  Until somebody comes along and says, "Hey.  You might be an alcoholic.  Why don't you give AA a try?" And maybe you do and maybe you don't but the point is, now you have new information.  Now you know there's a way to end this endless cycle.  Once you know that, you can't go on drinking in ignorance.

Being unenlightened is very similar.  You go about your predictable routine.  You suffer, and you cause suffering.  The next day you realize you've caused suffering and you feel bad, but you don't know how to not cause suffering, so you do it again, and then the next day you feel bad but you don't know how to not cause suffering and...you get the idea.  Until somebody comes along and says, "Hey, there's more than this."  And now you know that there's a way out.  And once you do, you can't keep bumbling mindlessly along...

I'm not explaining this very well.  What I'm saying, though, is I got it.  I mean I really got it.  It went straight past my cerebral cortex and down into my lizard brain.  I've been a Buddhist for a while now, seven or eight years, and nobody's ever explained it to me in a way that made that much sense.  I mean, wham.  Straight to the brain stem.  I almost drove off the freeway in sheer surprise.

Yes, I listen to his podcasts while I'm driving.  I'm not sure what a good idea that is, because he has a pretty soothing voice.  Anyway, if you're interested in Buddhism or the Twelve Steps or both, you might wanna read what Mr. Littlejohn has to say.  If nothing else, he's engaging, funny and profane. One of his blog posts is called, "Get Nondual, Motherfucker."  That pretty much sealed the deal for me right there.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kindle This

Okay, it wasn't this bad. It was bad, though.
So I went to Brother ChiSing's funeral last Sunday.  I gotta say, it was the best Baptist funeral for a Zen Buddhist I've ever been to.  Let this go to show you, folks, that no matter how explicit you are in your will about what you want for your funeral, your family will always win, because they're alive and you're not. And it's really for them, anyway, isn't it?  But there were some bizarre moments.  Firstly, Brother ChiSing made an appearance in a coffin. That's not very common in Buddhism, though I'm aware it's common in America in our time.  (He looked awful, too.  Shriveled up.  Not sure what caused that, the illness or the fact that he'd been dead for almost a week.)  Second, he was buried, like in a coffin in the ground, which I'm positive wasn't his idea. Thirdly and most odd of all, they put him in a suit, jacket and tie for the occasion. Look, I didn't know the man well, but I did know him for almost ten years and I promise you, he did not ever wear a suit, jacket and tie.  Worse still, it was a  brown suit, jacket and tie.  I mean, does anyone even wear brown suits?  I thought they went out with green ones in the 70s, and good riddance and all that.

And I mean, the Bible readings and stuff were okay, and the barbershop quartet was a nice touch, but when the pastor announced that "Norman" (yes, his real name was Norman) "will be waiting for us in the Christian heaven, with all those that have gone before him," I expected ChiSing to get out of his coffin and just walk out in disgust. Of course, he couldn't do that because he's probably already a newborn in Sri Lanka or someplace. ChiSing was not one to wait around.  Thankfully, there will be a second memorial service at the meditation center, and it will be a raucous, noisy celebration of life. Plenty of music, some dancing, snacks to be served afterward.  That would be Sunday, April 3 at 5:00 at CSL, 4801 Spring Valley Road  No. 115, Dallas, TX. See you there.

Meanwhile, a really good friend gave me a nifty gift; a writing master class with James Patterson.  Yes, that James Patterson, purveyor of airplane books the world over. (And in case you do not know what an airplane book is, I'm going to tell you.  It's the sort of book that you pick up because you realize when you get to the airport that, in spite of careful packing, you don't have anything to read on the airplane, which, if you're a reader, is like trying to cross the desert without any water, and so you run into the little airport bookstore thingy and grab something from the display in the front and then you read it on the airplane and forget about it half an hour later.  Which doesn't mean it's a bad book.  I mean it kept you entertained on the airplane, didn't it?  It's just usually not all that memorable. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone was my lucky exception.)  It's online and I've logged in and so on but I haven't actually watched any of the lectures yet. Why? Because my life seems to be in free fall at the moment.  Between work and swimming and training for this frick'n 5,000 meter race (which just got moved from July to September, which means that I get to train an extra three whole months for this thing, and whose idiot idea was that?  Idiots) I feel like I haven't been home for more than ten minutes at a stretch, except to sleep.

Yet, somehow, this thing I'm writing keeps crawling along.  And, to my surprise, I recently came to The End.  Well, not the actual end.  There's still a little wrap-up and banal dialogue to go, maybe a chapter or so.  But the basic narrative has ended.  The plot has resolved, I guess you could say.  And I've just run into a problem that I basically have never had before in my life: The darn thing is too short.

Too short? you say.  How could a book be too short?  Plenty of books are too long, but too short?  Doesn't happen.  Well, except that it does.  This li'l work of mine just topped 31,000 words.  That is, seriously, between 20 and 30,000 words too short.  Publishers like to print books that are of a certain length because that's how the big ol' printers and cardboard cutters and so on are calibrated.  Make a book that's too long and it's too expensive to print because you have to reset all the calibrations and the page counters and the--actually, I have only the vaguest idea what I'm talking about here, but anyway, there are machines involved and things do need to be of a certain size.  Make a book too short and it's not worth the money to fire up the machines in the first place.  A work of 30,000 words is pretty deep into novella territory.  And what is a novella, you ask?  Let's let Stephen King tell you (I paraphrase, very loosely):  "Buenas tardes and welcome to Novella, senor!  How long will you be staying with us?  A few weeks, you say?  Senor, I have to tell you, you will be in Novella for a very long time, si?"  Silly stereotypes aside, though, it's true. Novellas don't tend to go anywhere.  They just sit there.  Unless they're written by Stephen King, of course, and then they get wrapped up in a collection with three or four other novellas and published like a group of short stories and sell bazillions of copies and make everybody rich.  But I am not Stephen King and this ain't no Stephen King novella.  It's just a cheery yarn about statues coming to life, the impending destruction of all reality, and why it's critically important that we get Fleetwood Mac back together, preferably pre-Rumors.

Believe me, I've tried to make the thing longer.  I've been able to stuff in a few extra sentences here and there.  But for the most part, it just won't go.  It's the length that it is, and the length is too short.  So I'm not sure what to do with it, except maybe publish it on Amazon for 99 cents or, as has been gently suggested to me by people who actually know what they're talking about, more like $1.99.  You don't need calibrated printing machines to make a Kindle file. And you don't even need a Kindle to read one.  You can just go here or to your app store of choice and download the Kindle app, and then you can read it anywhere on your phone or tablet.

So that's the plan, and at the rate things are going I'd say it'll be ready in another month or so. If you think this is a bad idea, let me know, willya?  Because everything sounds brilliant at 3 in the morning when you can't sleep.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Brother ChiSing: 1969-2016

Well, we knew this was coming for months, but somehow nobody was even remotely prepared when Brother ChiSing died on Monday.  Brother ChiSing was my Buddhist monk friend and spiritual director of the Dallas Meditation Center, sometimes called the Awakening Heart Center. He founded the Center back in 2007 with a few friends and some rented rooms at Unity Church of Dallas, and by the time he died we had had our own building and there were something like 200 of us, not counting the walk-ins and general hangers-on.  Besides running the Center, Brother ChiSing recorded music, appeared at local interfaith events, hosted meditation workshops for beginners and just in general did as much as one human being can possibly do to get non-Buddhists interested in meditation.

He's been eulogized plenty on Facebook and there's not one but two memorial services coming up.  We weren't good friends and I wasn't part of the "inner circle" so I feel a little weird about adding my own "what-I-remember-about-ChiSing" thing.  But, I'm gonna do it anyway.  I was one of the few people showing up at the Unity Church back in 2007; not one of the original founders but I was there pretty early on.  The main thing I liked about ChiSing was his endless enthusiasm, which was sort of like a puppy being placed on the floor next to a bunch of new toys. When giving talks he often interrupted himself because such-and-such had just come to mind and he just couldn't wait until later to tell anybody, leading to a lot of "Where was I?  Oh yes..." moments.  And sometimes we never did get back to the original point, whatever it was, but the trip was always fascinating no matter where we ended up.

Brother ChiSing started out as a fairly liberal evangelical Christian pastor of the Baptist stripe.  He ended up getting kicked out of that role when some of the higher-ups "discovered" he was gay, though I can't imagine he was ever very quiet about it so they must have been pretty obtuse.  How he ended up becoming a Buddhist monk was going to be the subject of a book called "From Baptist to Buddhist and Beyond," and I don't know how far into it he was when he got sick.  I hope he left his notes with somebody because I'd love to see it finished.  Anyway, ChiSing met Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village in France sometime in the early 2000s and that meeting put him on the Buddhist path.  I've never met the man myself, but I understand Thich Nhat Hanh does that to people.

Anyway, I remember plenty of Sunday evenings at the Unity Church meditating and listening to ChiSing's talks (some of which can be found here, and really, you should give one of them a listen if you have a few minutes.  They really give you a better idea of what the man was like).  ChiSing also hosted daylong meditation retreats about once a month, and I looked forward to those like it was Christmas.  Even when my work schedule changed and I couldn't get to the Sunday night services anymore, I tried never to miss those daylong retreats because they were awesome.  Once, when I'd first been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and was still on a manic tear, I thought about not going to the retreat because I wasn't sure I could sit still.  But I went anyway, and kind of bounded into the church like Tigger from the Pooh stories. Bound bound bound bound bound up to the circle of meditation cushions and then dropped down onto one of them.  I looked around at everybody and said, "HI!!"  I could see Brother ChiSing trying really hard not to roll his eyes.  But anyway, he was incredibly patient with me, and I actually did calm down enough to meditate that day.

Another time, I went to a half-day meditation thing, to which I was the only one who showed.  There had been some kind of mix-up with the schedule, apparently.  But ChiSing and I sat and meditated together, and then we went over to the Thai temple to drop off some food for the monks (which is good luck) and just to have a look around.  It's a beautiful temple with a huge golden Buddha inside, and on the wallpaper inside are numerous Buddhist stories, including one picture of a man drowning in delusion while looking at Facebook!  ChiSing pointed this out to me like a kid would show off a tree house he and some friends had built in the forest.  It was a fascinating afternoon.  

In 2012 Brother ChiSing went to Thailand and entered a monastery for a couple of months.  He came back with hair that was about 1/4" long.  Sort of the "punk rock" look.  It was SO not him.  He put up with a lot of teasing about his hair, some of which came from me.  I think I dubbed him "ChiSing Rotten" (after John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten) but that might have been Cornell.

Anyway.  In 2014 ChiSing announced he had been to the doctor, and found out that he had nasopharyngeal cancer.  Chemotherapy was probably never an option due to where the tumor was located but he'd decided against it anyway.  He did have some radiation and some herbal therapies but mainly, he tried to do as much as he could in the time he had left.  During this time, the Dallas Meditation Center got kicked out of our building so it could be torn down to make luxury condos.  This was probably one of the biggest tragedies of his life, but he was focused on getting the rest of us through it instead.  We are now renting space at the CSL Dallas, which is fine, but having a permanent building would really be nice.  Our funding kind of comes and goes with the seasons, though, and landlords have this habit of wanting to be paid every month. To say nothing of employees, maintenance people, etc.

Through most of 2014 and up through this year, ChiSing split his time between his family in Houston and his Dallas family of friends.  He had just decided to enter hospice last week.  He died in his sleep Monday morning.  Not many people have the opportunity to make the kind of impact ChiSing did.  He was lucky.  He will be greatly missed.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

We Interrupt This Blog For An Announcement.

You guys, Justina Pelletier's family has just filed suit against Childrens' Hospital Boston for civil rights violations and medical malpractice.  Here's the link. (It's a short story but there will probably be a press release later.)   If it were my petition I'd throw in negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, loss of consortium, gross negligence and reckless endangerment, but I'm sure the lawyers know what they're doing. (And I just have to say, I'd give a very valuable body part to be on that legal team right now.  Which one do they want?  We can discuss.)

I realize my point of view is a little jaundiced because I write about institutional stupidity, of which there seems to be no end, but still, thank God and it's about time.  (Though, I might have waited until Justina turned 18.  Just in case, you know.)  You shouldn't get to abuse a child for 18 months, threaten her life and her health, lock her up when she hasn't done anything wrong, and then just walk away like nothing happened.  I hope by the time it's over, the family ends up owning this hospital and the whole medical-kidnapping thing comes to a screeching halt because everybody's afraid to try it again.

If you missed my posts on this case, you can find them here, here and here.  I won't bore you with a recap.  Let's just say, I've done my own writing on this thing, and maybe something will come out of that and maybe it won't.  And I'm sorry the religious right has seized on this case and made it one of their pet issues (meaning you have to wade through a bunch of hysterical rantings from so-called "persecuted Christians" and anti-vaccination insanity to find out much about it) but since they have, maybe they've done something good for a change. Even Mike Huckabee, with whom I virulently disagree about practically everything, took on Justina's case as a personal cause of action.  And isn't that what we should be doing, us human beings (never mind us Buddhists)?  The right thing, even if we have to hold our noses and do it with people we don't like very much?

Meanwhile, back at the Flaming O Ranch, things are unusually copacetic. Calm, even, sometimes. We're almost done with the painting of our Spare Room, just the chair rails and the trim to go, and after we let that sit and "cure" for a few weeks, we can start moving back in. Finally.  I'll post photos.  I'm still rolling around on the floor fighting this sugar addiction thing tooth and nail, but nothing's really changed there; sometimes I win, sometimes the sugar wins. I'm paying basically no attention to the election except for stuff people post on Twitter, and I've stayed out of Yahoo chat rooms almost entirely since, let's see, January.  At which time my mood seems to have lifted. Coincidence? Probably.  Oh, and we marked the passing of David Bowie. Rest easy, Mr. Bowie.

Anyway, I'll try to come up with something substantive to write about next week.  Maybe some obscure point of admiralty law.  Or maybe Buddhism.  I think I'm supposed to be writing about Buddhism.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Medical Thing

While all that was going on, I had a medical thing happen. One that called for actual doctors and tests and stuff.  It was like this; I was on my way to an appointment when I started seeing flashing yellow and purple lights off to the right.  They sort of morphed over to the middle, and once they did that I couldn't see.  Well, I could see flashing yellow and purple lights, but not whatever I was trying to actually look at (the road, in this case).  One of the good things about being me is that when I see something that's not there, I know it's not there.  And I knew these flashing lights were not there, but darned if I couldn't see them anyway.
Yeah, like that, except only on one side.

The other thing that happened was that I couldn't talk.  Now, if you know me, you know that's pretty darn weird.  I can talk the ears off a rubber monkey.  When I started talking when I was a baby, they had to tell me to shut up within the first 24 hours.  Actually I could talk, but what I was saying didn't make any sense.  It was like a word salad.  I'd try to say something like, "Thanks, I'll see you later" and it would come out "Stop sign boxcar plant water bottle tornado."  So you can see why this could be the subject of some concern.  Whatever it was, though, it went away after about half an hour.

I happened to see an eye doctor not long after this happened, like I do every year to get a prescription for ever-thicker glasses. This time he asked me all kinds of questions about my blood pressure and my heart rate and suchlike and so forth.  I asked him why all the questions and he said the vision changes in my right eye looked like the sort of pattern he often saw after a transient ischemic attack, which is a small stroke (!).  So I mentioned the flashing lights, and he told me I needed to go see my Regular Doc, pronto.

So off I went to the Regular Doc.  I got as far as "flashing lights" and he dispatched me immediately to the hospital to get a CT scan.  I mean I was in the CT scan machine about a half hour later, which is lightning speed for things medical.  I gathered whatever they saw on the CT scan wasn't too bad, though, because they let me leave the hospital.  And a few days later I called my Regular Doc and was told they saw "no intercranial abnormalities." Oh, and that I do have a brain.

Which is great, of course, but it doesn't solve the mystery of the flashing lights.  I've actually seen them several times, though the aphasia was a new thing.  Last August, approximately, the same thing happened at work, and lasted about half an hour.  Before that, a couple of years earlier, again while driving (there is nothing scarier than suddenly not being able to see while driving).  But it's not like it happens every day, or anything.  Just once in a while.

Anyway, the theory we're working on now is a thing called an "ocular migraine." To quote allaboutvision.com,"Ocular migraines are painless, temporary visual disturbances that can affect one or both eyes. Though they can be frightening, ocular migraines typically are harmless and self-resolve without medication within 20 to 30 minutes." Which sounds about right. Naturally, the cause is unknown but is probably genetic. There's no treatment or cure, but they're supposed to be harmless, unless you get into a car accident. And unlike normal migraines, they don't hurt. (A plus.) The only thing you can do if one hits is go someplace quiet and lie down. I mean, you can't do anything else because you can't see. 

So I guess enforced rest every once in a while isn't so bad.  It beats having a transient ischemic attack all to hell. They're not sure why I would not be able to talk, but regular migraines sometimes come with aphasia, so maybe it's related.  Oh, and the loss of vision in my right eye?  Possibly caused by a cataract.  Yes, I'm 47 years old and I already have a cataract.  Joy.  

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Swimming Anxiety

This morning I swam 3200 meters by mistake. That is, I only set out to swim 3000 but I lost track somewhere in the middle there and by the time I figured it out I'd gone 200 extra meters.  Like that's a bad thing.  So we have a new record of farthest distance swum by Jen.  That's twice I've done 3000 and this time I felt like I could have kept going, maybe made it to 3500.  So my quest for 5000 meters is evidently heading in the right direction.  Whoever invented Gatorade (yes, the low sugar version -- it's at least a little better than the Really Bad Stuff) gets my thunderous applause. Whoever invented pureed fruit to be sold as baby food, however--he and I need to have a talk.  Somebody told me I could stay away from the Snickers bars by eating some of this pureed fruit, which conveniently comes in little squeezable bottles.  Well, that pureed fruit is some of the worst stuff I've ever put in my mouth.  Ick!  It's supposed to be plain fruit, but it's so ridiculously sweet that a diabetic might lose consciousness. And they feed this stuff to babies?  No wonder they scream.  Next time, when I shoot for 3200 again (this time on purpose), I'll try just plain ol' blueberries and sliced bananas in a baggie.  And chew them really, really fast. And try not to pay too much attention to the "No Food Or Drink Allowed" sign that dominates one whole side of the pool room.

In other news, I've just realized something.  It is this: I basically have no faith in people who say they are going to do something.  This comes from work, of course.  I spend much of every day asking people to bring me things, send me things, tell me things.  They always say they're going to do whatever it is, but for some reason I just don't believe them.  So I put a little note on my calendar and I call them a week later to see if they've done it yet.  Sometimes they have.  More often they say something like, "Oh hey, I forgot all about that.  Thanks for reminding me!" Or something along those lines that's a little less polite. Or, as occasionally happens, "Did you pay my invoice yet?" to which the answer is generally, "Let me check with the accountant."  Which means no, in case you don't understand business doublespeak.

In case you haven't guessed this, I'm also a regular whiz at nagging people. I have a particular system where I call people every week, then twice a week, then three times a week, and then every day until they cough up whatever it is I need.  It never fails (well, except for this one hospital, and I can't call that a failure just yet because I've only been calling every day for about a week now).  Never call more than once a day; that's harassment. (Yes, I used to work for that arm of a bank that calls you when you're late with your credit card bill.)  But call at different times of day.  Try nine o'clock, then three, then ten-thirty, then four in the afternoon.  If they get wise to your work number and send you directly to voice mail, call from your cell phone.  If that doesn't work, either, start faxing letters.  My goal in these situations is to make it easier for you to send me whatever I need than continue to dodge me.

The thing is, I don't know how to turn this off when I'm not at work.  If somebody says she's going to call me about something or other and then doesn't do it for whatever reason, I'm equal parts surprised, hurt and anxious.  I seem to be incapable of grasping the simple concept that just because something is important to me doesn't mean it's life or death to anybody else and that sometimes, shit just happens.  Your kid gets the flu or your husband loses his job or the heater goes out in the middle of December and you're too busy handling the crisis, whatever it is, to get back to me.  No wonder I feel kind of equal parts silly and whiny when I call people to see if they've done what they said they were going to do.  That doesn't stop me from doing it, though.

When I told her about this, Joan pointed out that any time things don't happen on my timetable, which is evidently the most important timetable on the entire planet, my anxiety gets triggered.  In case I didn't mention this to you guys, I don't have a problem with anxiety.  Anxiety IS my problem.  If I could get a grip on the anxiety, I could probably get a grip on everything else just fine, but short of chemical solutions, anxiety is just not that easy to get a grip on, people.  And those chemical solutions are great, but they come with side effects of not being able to drive and occasionally falling asleep sitting up.

The most recent example of this involved my health insurance company, my doctor and some phone calls.  My doctor, not me, had to make these phone calls; they would not do any good coming from me.  Now, most people would just call the doctor (or, as is my wont, send him a fax) and let him/her handle it.  And I did do that, after a fashion, as in, I didn't call back every day to say, "Have you handled it yet?" I wanted to, but I didn't.  And after about four days, which would be pretty reasonable to anybody's timetable that isn't mine, my doctor called and told me that it was handled.  All fine and dandy, except I won't get back the four days I spent obsessing about it and wondering if it was too soon to call and check up.

This is about as un-Buddhist-y as you can possibly get, except maybe killing somebody.  Buddhists are supposed to be patient and calm and not worry about things.  Maybe you get that way after you attain enlightenment, but I ain't there yet.  Thich Nhat Hanh talks about giving others "the gift of non-fear," especially in scary situations; he uses the situation of a boat full of refugees being blown about by a storm.  Everybody's starting to panic except one guy, who starts saying, "Everything's going to be okay.  Don't be afraid," and since he seems to be very calm, everyone believes him and settles down.  Thich Nhat Hanh doesn't end this story with what actually happens to the boat because the point isn't the fate of the boat; the point is to not be afraid, and to help other people not be afraid.

People tell me I stay calm when I handle things.  I'm the one in the office who's most likely to say, "Okay, calm down, give it to me, I'll fix it."  I never feel calm, though.  Maybe it's possible to act yourself into being calm.  Or, at least, not adding to the general anxiety.