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

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.