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

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Work In Progress

I have this bad habit of starting blog posts and then not finishing them.  Last week I got into full-on rant mode about a letter to Dear Carolyn, where this lady’s husband was disabled (as in, on disability/SSI and unable to work) and her family not only didn’t believe he was disabled, but kept asking him when he was going to get off his lazy ass and get a job.  I mean, excuse me?  They don’t just put you on disability if you walk with a limp, you know.  You have to apply (often more than once) and there are hearings and doctors are called in to testify and, you know, it’s kind of a big deal.

Mind you, the closest I’ve ever come to that situation is where I had sprained my ankle really bad and was limping around on crutches, and I went with my family to dinner and the bartender (really no idea what prompted this) suddenly yelled, “Faker!  She’s faking!” for the whole restaurant to hear.  He’s lucky I didn’t sail a crutch right into his wall of nicely decorated bottles.  I can’t imagine having to deal with that kind of cr@p every DAY.  Much less from family members.  So I got all into a rant about it, but I fizzled out two paragraphs in. I kind of Didn’t Know Where To Go With That. So that was it for that blog post.

Another time I started a blog post about the Buddhist Five Precepts and how they did and didn’t relate to the Ten Commandments and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings, but that was just a tiny bit esoteric and it was so boring it put my teeth to sleep.  So that one didn’t get published either.  I don’t think this sort of thing is unique to me; I’ll bet Stephen King has lots of stuff he started writing and then bailed on when he realized he was never going to be able to hook the monster up with the protagonist without a lot of mental gymnastics and an apologetic phone call to Bram Stoker.  (Incidentally, did Bram Stoker answer the phone? Because THAT would make a really good Stephen King story.)

Let’s take painting, for example.  I was just at an art museum a few days ago, and whenever I go to an art museum I invariably want to go home and paint.  I’m working on a picture of an iris (the flower, not the eyeball) and it’s not going to be great; it’s still kind of a work in progress but I can tell that nobody’s ever gonna pay $1.4 million for it at a Sotheby’s auction.  That’s okay, though.  I like painting, it’s fun and I’ve done lots worse.  Once I was taking a class and we had a nude model come in and pose for us.  I was so embarrassed that there was a naked woman in the room that I couldn’t do much more than peek at her every ten minutes or so, and what I painted ended up looking kind of like a gargoyle with a bad case of mange. You can bet that one got gessoed over really fast.  Years from now, after I die, they’ll X-ray my copy of The Beheading of St. John the Baptist by Rubens and find this really bad nude underneath it and wonder what I was thinking. I was probably thinking about how much I wished the model was wearing a dress.  (And speaking of John the Baptist’s head, I did Salome’s nose so many times trying to get it right that she looked like Michael Jackson.  My instructor had to come over and fix it for me.  Imagine, getting a nose job from a painting instructor.)  

The thing about failed first attempts at anything is, you tried it, right?  Lots of people don't bother trying anything (and criticize those who do, for reasons I'm a little unclear on.)  If your first knitted square looks like something the cat threw up, or your first silver white cake collapses in the middle, or your first painting looks like, well, a gargoyle with mange, there's no need to freak out or even show it to anybody.  (Sometimes failed first attempts are good for getting a laugh, though.)  The point is, you did it.  Maybe the next attempt will come out better.  Maybe there won't be a next attempt, because you figured out you never really wanted to learn how to knit in the first place.  But you won't know that unless you give it a try.  I didn't want to write a blog post tonight, for example, but darned if I haven't done one anyway.  Which is a good thing.  And now I'm going back to my painting.  Cheers, all.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Power of Attorney

People have been streaming into the law firm for the last several days.  Couples, individuals, and plenty of kids in tow.  We were open all day Saturday just trying to accommodate everybody and it doesn't show any sign of slowing down.  The law firm must be doing great, right?  Lookie here at all these paying clients, right?

Well--not exactly.

See, we're located in a very heavily Hispanic neighborhood.  As is true of most large cities, there are people living here who aren't supposed to be here.  Some of them have been here for years (24 years, in one case) and many have had children here who, because they were born here, are supposed to be here.  And ever since the ICE began its most recent crackdown, these people are scared.  They're scared that somebody's going to arrest them at work or on their way home, and take them away, and then what will happen to their kids?

Because that is what's happening.  ICE has shown up and arrested women during court hearings.  ICE has walked into Hispanic-owned businesses and detained people.  ICE has done "targeted actions" at locations frequented by Hispanic folks and just rounded up everybody.

Now, these are people who can't legally be here, so some of you might think all that is okay.  Some folks think we should have been cracking down on undocumented immigrants all along, and I respect that.  Some folks think we need a wall along the border, and while I can't imagine how that could possibly help, I do understand the mentality. I would argue that you can't really root out an estimated 11.4 million people and dump them on the other side of the border without some very serious societal and demographic consequences, but I do understand that some people are in favor of that.  Anyway, that whole argument, while very interesting, is kind of beside the point of this blog post.

What we're concerned about here is what happens to the kids.  The accidental orphans who stay behind when Mom and Dad disappear.

My boss is concerned about that too.  That's why, when these people come streaming in, he helps them draw up the paperwork so that someone else--an aunt, a grandmother, a trusted friend--can take custody of the kids if anything happens. Documents that give the someone else permission to enroll the kids in school, get them medical care, stuff like that.  You need documents like this to do just about anything for somebody's kid, if you're not the custodial parent.  So that's what we've been doing.  Word is spreading and so more and more people are coming.  At first we were taking walk-ins just as they appeared, but now we've had to start setting appointments because there's not enough room in the lobby for everybody who's waiting.

(And by the way, I've gotten to be a regular whiz at saying, in Spanish, "Sign here please.  This signature means X. This signature means Y."  And stuff like that.)

Oh, and in case I forgot to mention it, we're doing this for free.  What we'd ordinarily charge is way out of the reach of most of these folks.

I'm not going to tell you the name of the law firm.  I can't, lest the steady stream of clients become a tsunami and the ICE starts staking out the office.  But I can tell you this. Their kids, though usually shy around strangers and law firm people, are just like American kids. Kids who don't understand things like demographics and politics and international borders. Kids who don't want to go live with Aunt Lucy because their parents have been taken away.    

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Zen For A Day

So for about two years now, I've really been wanting to go to a retreat.  That is, a meditation experience where you go someplace, usually a nice place with lots of plants and trees, and do some serious meditating for days or even weeks.  I don't think this is strictly a Buddhist thing -- I went on a Christian retreat once as a teenager, though no actual meditation happened -- but Buddhists are kind of known to do this.  The idea is to have really deep meditations, so that you realize profound and awesome things about your nature and the universe.  Or at least you get a break from the phone ringing and people texting you every five minutes.

The last time I went on a retreat was I think in 2013, when Brother ChiSing was still alive and we all went to Praxis in far North Texas, just south of the Red River. That was awesome.  It was three days of meditation, walking, quiet and general restfulness.  I had a close encounter with a grasshopper, which is sort of a long story but you can read about it here.  And there were stars. Lots of stars. Zillions and zillions of stars. And grasshoppers.  Anyway, a great time was had.  And now it's been a couple of years and I really want to do this again and I keep running into the same two barriers:  One, there just ain't a lot of Buddhist meditation retreats happening in Texas.  This here's the Bible belt, in case you didn't know. And two, the ones there are, are either A. prohibitively expensive or B. far away or often C. both.

There was this one in Austin, for example, last weekend.  It was for women only, and it was hosted by the Plum Blossom Sangha, which is kind of a sister group to the Dallas Meditation Center, where I hang out. Same school of Buddhism, same guys in charge.  So it would have made a lot of sense to go, except the cheapest accommodations they had available were still too expensive for our budget.  I jist ain't got that kind of money for a weekend.  (And if I did, I'd be saving it up for a new mattress, which I desperately need.)  There's another one in April, which is cheaper, but still too expensive. Life is expensive, you know.

So, last Saturday I hauled myself over to the local Zen center, another Buddhist group in the Dallas environs, for a daylong retreat. It was better than nothing. (It was also cheaper.  A mere $35, and for that you get tea and crackers, too.)  Now, there's meditation in the Thich Nhat Hanh tradition, which is what I do, and then there's Zen, which is a whole nother thing.  A Zen retreat basically involves a whole lot of sitting, not a whole lot of anything else, and it's all very formal.  No stars. No grasshoppers.  You sit facing the wall instead of facing other people; people bow at you; you do certain stuff when the bell rings, etc.  Which, again, is great, unless you're like me and you have A. very little patience for formality and B. no clue what to do when the bell rings about half the time.  Or maybe more than half the time.

Now, I knew what I was getting into.  I've been there before.  But, that was an hour and a half long regular session, not a daylong retreat.  I also knew what I was bringing with me, which is, a right hip that gets very cranky sometimes, especially when you want to sit on it for what seems like an inordinate length of time.  So, being a smart person, I asked for a chair.  Yes, you can meditate in a chair.  It means you're not touching the Earth like all the cool kids, but you can do it.  The trick is not to rest on the back of the chair, and just kind of sit forward with your spine straight but not rigid and incline yourself not exactly forward but not exactly backward, either, while avoiding being straight up and down.  Yeah, it's kind of like flying a helicopter.  Not that I've ever flown a helicopter, but I don't imagine you just sort of wing over to where you want to be and press the "hover" button.

So anyway.  I was in this chair, and I was meditating, and everything was going more or less well, and then the teacher showed up.  The teacher is a pretty cool dude.  I think he's a comparative religion professor someplace besides being a Zen master, and professors of comparative religion (and Zen masters) tend to be rather even tempered and sanguine about this whole what's-my-place-in-the-universe thing.  I've only met him like once three years ago, but he remembered meeting me and I, remarkably, remembered what he'd said to me last time, which made him very happy.  (I imagine most professors of comparative religion would be overjoyed if they ran into a student who still remembered the basic plot of the Bhagavad Gita.)  So that went well, and we broke for lunch, and that went well, and honestly, I was doing fine until time for the tea ceremony.

I hope y'all have actually been to a Japanese tea ceremony, because I don't know if I can possibly describe what it's like. Let's just say, like all things Japanese, that the presentation of the thing matters as much or more as the actual substance.  You know how when you go to a Japanese restaurant, the food is very artfully designed and served on attractive little plates with contrasting colors and stuff?  Yeah, well, they do that with everything. Not to mention tea.  Well, especially tea.  Tea is very important. How important is it?  Well, it's important enough that I scooted out of my chair and got down on the floor, with the cool kids, so that we'd all be sitting at the same height and the tea servers wouldn't have to bend at a different angle to offer me a cup.  Because that wouldn't look right. 

Unfortunately, scooting down onto the floor was a mistake.  My cranky hip was already cranky, in spite of the chair, and being on the floor did not make it any happier. There's something about leaning outward at that angle that it just really doesn't like after a while.  So we meditated for half an hour, and then the teacher said a few words, and then the tea ceremony started, and by this point my cranky hip is making it really obvious that I'd better do something, like immediately, if I want to be able to limp down the stairs to go home.  So what did I do?  I straightened my right leg.  Rolled my toes to the inside.  Rolled my toes to the outside.  Then tucked the leg back in, figuring it would be good for another ten minutes.  Maybe.  Possibly.

And the second I saw the expressions on the faces of the people across from me, I could just tell I'd committed some kind of horrible faux pas.  Which, in a Japanese setting, is ridiculously easy to do.  And it had to be during the tea ceremony.  Of course.

So, being the brave person that I am, I snuck out the back door an hour and a half early, which was the second I had a chance and before anybody could talk to me.  Eesh.  Maybe if I don't show up back there for like thirty days or something, everyone will have forgotten all about it.  Or maybe it'll become one of those apocryphal fairy tales people use to scare hell out of children; "And that, young grasshopper, is why we don't straighten our right legs during the tea ceremony."

(Like how I came full circle on the grasshopper thing?)

Well, anyway, how embarrassing.  But I got my retreat, sort of.  Somebody just please remind me that the next time I go back there, I'm not to get out of the chair for anything. Yea verily, even tea.  Unless, of course, that would be another horrible faux pas.  Which is possible.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

So This Happened:

So this happened:  On our way home from a craft thing at a friend's house, Joan and I stopped at an Indian restaurant in Richardson to have an early Valentine's dinner.  As often happens, about six more parties followed us in (we draw crowds wherever we go, what can I say).  One of the parties was seated right behind us; a couple, evidently from around town, and some friends from out of town (they didn't have Texas accents; if I had to guess I'd say South Africa).  Anyway, we'd just put in our order when the guy of the couple started opining, loud and long, about transgender people and "men using the women's room".  I distinctly heard him say, "I feel like a woman today, I think I'll use the ladies' room."  Among other things, using some words I haven't heard in better than 20 years. Meanwhile, we got increasingly uncomfortable.  No, neither one of us is transgender (though I wouldn't tell you if I was, so munch on that), but we know people that are and, well, I'm just not happy about people dissing other people in public.  In general.  And in particular.  Are you?

Anyway, Joan leaned across the table and said, "Let's go."  And I said, "We just put in our order."  So she flagged down the waiter and asked him if he could box up our order to go.  And then Mr. Opinionated said something else--I actually didn't hear it, or didn't understand what I did hear, and Joan said, "Let's go. Now."  And we did.

We left a nice note for the manager, letting him know it wasn't his fault, and some money for the appetizer that had already come.  And on our way out the door, Joan leaned over and announced to the table, "Thank you for ruining our dinner."

Lemmee back up and say that again.  Joan leaned over and announced to the table, "Thank you for ruining our dinner."  

I mean.  I just.  Wow.  Those of you who don't know Joan, she is a quiet and nonconfrontational type of person.  She has a temper (who doesn't?) but it doesn't come out very often.  So she must have been pretty pissed.  I was just really uncomfortable and wanting to leave because I was listening to a person who plainly understands nothing of what he speaks and has to say it loudly, but it wouldn't have occurred to me to actually confront the table.  I mean that was ballsy.  Oops, I just referred to Joan with the wrong genitalia.  My bad.  You see how complicated this sort of thing can get?

A couple of minutes later, as we were getting into the car and driving away, I said, "I've never walked out on a check before.  Are we going to jail?"  Joan said, "Relax.  I left some money."  So I relaxed.  A little.  But if you guys hear anything about the Richardson police looking for two fat ladies who walked out of a restaurant Sunday night, I'd appreciate it if you'd pretend you don't know us.

This ends happily, sort of.  We drove over to Afrah, my favorite restaurant, which not only serves great Lebanese food, but is really warm and friendly and welcomes everybody.  We got a great meal and if anybody was talking loudly about transgender persons, they were doing it in Arabic so I didn't understand them.  (I can say a few things in Arabic.  Hello, how are you, he'll be out in a minute.  I thought I was going to get a job with the Holy Land Foundation Defense Fund there for a while, so I learned a little Arabic just in case.  I've forgotten most of it, though.)

So I guess the moral of this story is, you never know who might be seated next to you in a restaurant. So don't spew your prejudices about, loudly, to a room where you don't know who might be hearing them.  Or that people will be assholes sometimes.  But I think the real moral is, don't ever, ever piss off Joan.  She can be fierce when roused.  I'm going to take her a nice iced coffee now.  Cheers.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Trolling For Outrage

A while ago the manager came into my office and caught me on Twitter, as I sometimes am (@jenstrikesagain).  She asked me what in the hell I was doing and I told her I was trolling for outrage.

"Trolling for outrage?" she said.  "Yes," I said. "Usually I can sit down and do my job just because I like what I do.  But sometimes I come in here and I don't feel like it or I'm tired or I don't feel well or whatever.  And that's when I have to go trolling for outrage.  I get on Twitter or I get on Yahoo News and I look for a news story that's outrageous.  It never takes very long to find one. And then I'm outraged and I have all this energy and I feel like smacking somebody but instead I get to work and do my job because maybe there'll be a little less outrage out there if we win this motion or we settle this case or we mediate this dispute.  Trolling for outrage. That's what I call it.  What do you do when you don't feel like doing your job?"

The manager gave me a long, slow blink and said, "I drink another cup of coffee."

Well, hey, that may work for some folks, too.  But ever since November 9 of last year, it's been ridiculously easy to find outrage.  I no longer need to go trolling for it. It shows up at my doorstep daily in freshly wrapped packages.  Here's a sample just from this morning:

  •  Trump fired his acting AG for refusing to defend his unconstitutional order banning people from seven different countries from entering the US.  (In case you don't know this, attorneys can't argue for or defend anything they know is unconstitutional. They can be disbarred if they do.)
  • The entire upper echelon of the State Department has also been fired.
  • Fox News spent all of yesterday and part of today stating that the Quebec mosque shooter was from Morocco. In fact the shooter was a French Canadian university student.
  • The Education Secretary nominee apparently plagiarized her answers to written questions propounded by the Senate.  Let's get this straight, people: Only legal professionals can plagiarize at will, and only from other legal professionals.  Educators must do their own work and keep their eyes on their own papers. 
  •  A Danish citizen has been denied entry to the United States because he excavates archaeological sites in Iraq. Really.
  • A Mississippi lawmaker has submitted a bill that would make wearing saggy pants a crime. I would argue that's double jeopardy, since it's already a crime against fashion. 
You see what I mean?  It's getting ridiculous.  It's almost to the point where I think a long, extended break from all social media would be a good idea, though realistically, I'll probably never do that.  But the whole thing does raise some questions about the role of social media in life, anyway, how we're shaped by our environment and how we may be doing the shaping, without even knowing it. And how Buddhist-y it is, anyway, to deliberately go look at things you know are going to piss you off?  Probably not very.

One argument against spending time on social media, for example, is that it puts you in a bubble. Unless you really like to argue with people, you're probably going to follow people who think the way you do and tweet the way you tweet (or Snapchat, or whatever).  So you're bouncing the same old, tired ideas off people who are bouncing the same old, tired ideas off you, and pretty soon it's like being in an echo chamber, and then when you happen to run into people who disagree with you out in the real world, you're first shocked, and then angry.  How dare they. Which, of course, leads to increased conflict, more arguments and more suffering for all beings.

Another thought: Docs are telling us now that more than a small amount of screen time is bad for people.  Parents all over the country restrict their kids to no more than a certain amount of time on the iPhone or the tablet for fear their eyes will fall out, or that they'll meet predators in chat rooms. Yet, when the kids suggest maybe Mom and Dad should put their phones down, too, a lot of moms and dads find out that they just can't do it.  When a day care center put up a sign about it, outrage followed.  People have become hooked on the instant-information fix. Well, a lot of us have. You are, after all, reading this, aren't you?

(Incidentally, the Thai Buddhist temple here on Dallas, off of Forest Lane, has handpainted wallpaper that depicts, among other things, old Buddhist stories and modern dilemmas.  It's got an illustration of Siddhartha meeting the sick man, the old man, and the dead man, for example,  It also has a picture of a man with a computer, on Facebook, drowning in the Sea of Delusion.)

In Plum Village, the Thich Nhat Hanh hamlet near Bordeaux, France, they have a "second body" policy when it comes to going online (and yes, monks and nuns do go online; it may be a monastery, but it isn't a 12th century one). That means that somebody else sits there with you while you get on the Internet and do what you need to do.  Kind of a pain if you feel like pulling up some good porn, but then I suppose monks and nuns aren't supposed to do that anyway and it's probably great for not getting lost in the clickstream for hours at a time. (It's a little culty, though, if you ask me.)  I don't have a "second body" that I can haul around when I need to get on the Internet, so I installed this little chime thingy that rings once an hour. That at least tells me how much time I've been there, and since I'm on the Internet at work basically all day, it's a good reminder to get up, stretch, walk a little, take a few deep breaths.  You know, interact with the actual world.

I get sucked in by bad news; other people get sucked in by fantasy football, Twitter, the Kardashian sisters or who's winning American Idol (is that even still on?).  We've managed to design a world where it's hard to live without instant tech. In 2010 we had a huge power outage that affected most of the northern part of the state, and besides being freezing and having to cook in the dark, Joan and I were terribly worried about how we were going to charge our cell phones.

Anyway, I don't know what the solution is.  But maybe taking an hour or so a day to unplug would be a start.  Seriously, an hour a day without your cell phone close to hand.  Can you do it?

Monday, January 16, 2017

Guest Post: Another Way To Starve

I am so, so excited to be able to guest post this amazing essay by Kimberly Dark!! First read it, of course, and then go check out her Web site:   If you want to see the original layout of the post, you can see it here.  Thank you, Kimberly!! and I'm glad this is getting read by at least some people who wouldn't have seen it otherwise.  --Jen

Another Way to Starve

By Kimberly Dark
When you’re a fat kid, sometimes you go hungry.

Here’s something weird.

It’s when your family has enough money to buy plenty of food,
even fancy food sometimes, like a steak dinner. They stop whenever
they want and pick up a little something because who has time for
cooking all three meals every day? But somehow, you’re the person 
in your family who shouldn’t eat.

It’s not like they withhold food, but they make you feel bad for 
eating it. They want you to say no to food. They want you to want to 
deprive yourself and why would they want that, if you were actually 
just as good as everyone else? I mean, why would they? You 
wonder this because you’re a kid. And you don’t have any answers.

“When you’re a fat kid, sometimes you go hungry.” — Tweet this.

But hang on. Sometimes they don’t feed you because you’re being 
virtuous and they’re being supportive. You’re on a diet. They don’t 
feed you even though you’re hungry. They tell you this is your 
choice and they’re proud of you for it.

They know you’re hungry and that you feel left out when others 
are eating because how could you not feel left out from the
 deliciousness and kindness and collaboration and community and 
belonging and satisfaction involved in eating? And they look at 
you with pity and tell you how good you are when you’re starving.
They tell you how great you’re going to look because clearly 
there’s something wrong with the way you look now. They know 
it. You know it. Everyone who has ever seen you knows it. It 
goes without saying. And yet, they say it often enough anyway,
just to remind you. The only way to not be insulted for looking
how you look is to actively, and in full view, be starving.

“The only way to not be insulted for looking how you look is to 
actively, and in full view, be starving.” — Tweet this.

Everyone you know says you’ll look great if you only eat very 
little and they encourage you to say it too. It’ll make you feel better 
about starving. It’ll make them feel better about encouraging you 
not to eat when they know you must be hungry or hurt or left out 
of loving interactions that happen around food. You’re not just
reminded once in a while either. People eat three times a day. 
Well, that’s officially how often they eat, but lots of people eat 
more often than that. Not  you. That’s snacking and snacking 
is bad. You’re bad. Your body is bad. That’s what you learn.
People who want to live have to eat. But eating is the one thing 
that seems to prove that you shouldn’t exist at all.

“Snacking is bad. You’re bad. Your body is bad. That’s what
children learn.” — Tweet this.

Everyone tells you how gluttonous you are, how overstuffed-
privileged-lazy you are. They may not say it directly to you 
(or they may). They say it about you and about people who look
like you. They say awful things as though you aren’t standing 
right there, or you don’t matter and really are awful.

You are not allowed to eat in a relaxed way. Sometimes you’re 
not allowed to eat at all. What does that mean? You’re a kid, 
so you’re still working out all of the strange things adults do, 
and learning who you are in the process. You hear about people 
starving for lack of food but you have food — loads of it — in the 
house where you live, in the stores where you shop, yet you too 
experience hunger. (And sometimes you over-stuff yourself,
like on a holiday, when those around give you permission to eat. 
Or like when you get angry and can’t stand all that being 
precious around food, so you eat. And then, you figure out what
to do with the shame of having eaten so much.) You know you 
don’t deserve to claim hardship and yet you live being hungry
or rebelling against hunger. What does this mean? You wonder 
because you’re a child and no one can make sense of it for you 
even though they’re adults and they seem so sure about the rules. 
They seem so sure about who you are. It seems like they would
understand what all this means but they won’t tell you.

“What do you say to yourself and the children in your life?” 
— Tweet this.

That’s weird, right? To grow up totally middle class and able to 
eat, only not able to eat and be love-worthy at the same time. And 
the shame. Oh, the shame of being wrong, all the time wrong,
 impossible to erase the wrong-bodied-ness that you express 
everywhere you go. Hide  yourself. Don’t move. Don’t dress flashy. 
Don’t be loud. No one wants to hear you. No one respects you. No 
one will ever respect you. Do something about yourself, 
for godsakegoddamnit.

As a kid, how would you even talk about something like that? 
As an adult, how do you make sense of it?

And now that you know how diet culture works on children and 
against children, on adults and against adults making it seem like 
it’s fine for a person’s life purpose to be diminishing one’s body, 
what do you say? What do you say to yourself and the children 
in your life? 

How will you fix this?

--Kimberly Dark is a writer, sociologist and raconteur working to
reveal the hidden architecture of everyday life, one clever story, 
poem and essay at a time. 

Learn more at

Monday, January 9, 2017


Aaaand she's late again.  Well, that's okay.  What are they going to do, cut my salary?  Besides, I have an excellent excuse.  I found out Friday that we're going to be kicked out of our house for a week.

Yeah.  Seems that a few years ago, when we had that broken pipe which led to the catastrophic flood under the house, some of the floorboards in our bathroom were damaged.  They're now very weak and starting to give way.  In short, the entire bathroom floor is due to collapse.  Which, you have to admit, would be a rotten thing to happen while you were sitting on the throne, if you know what I mean.  And guess where all the weak spots are?  Right around the throne.  So you see the problem.

We had a contractor come over and give us an estimate.  It's a scary estimate, but it's doable.  He's pulling out all the bathroom hardware, totally replacing the shower stall with a disabled-friendly walk in shower (thank God for small favors), repaneling the floor, laying tile, and painting.  In short, we're going to get a whole new bathroom, and it's going to be a nice shade of teal.  The only thing that really sucks is the whole having to move out of the house for a week part.

See, we only have one bathroom.  That's the one thing I've never liked about our house.  All houses should have two bathrooms, in case of emergencies.  But in 1958, when our house was built, it was sort of inconceivable that anybody could possibly need more than one bathroom.  (Clearly, 1958-era contractors never tried living with two women at once.)  I asked a contractor once how much it would cost to add another bathroom to our house and he told us that A. because of where the sewer pipe is located, the only way to go is up, ie, we'd need to add a second story to the house and B. that would start around $20,000.00 and go up from there.  So we never did it.  Besides, Joan can't do stairs.

So we spent a goodly portion of Saturday trying to find a place to stay for a week.  Surprisingly, there aren't a lot of hotels which are A. affordable and B. are just fine with you bringing your three cats. Imagine.  Anyway, we ended up cruising vacation rental places and finally found a condo near downtown. The guy who owns it is an attorney, and it probably didn't hurt that I said we were a paralegal and a librarian.  And yes, I told him about the three cats.  He rented the place to us anyway.  Beginning this Saturday, we'll be living in a tony one-bedroom in a luxury complex that has a fitness center and even (gasp!) a swimming pool.  Not that anybody's doing much swimming when it's 38 degrees outside, but I guess you could.

Moving day is next Saturday.  We will probably each be taking a few days off work so that the cats won't be alone in a strange place.  Luckily, both of us can work from home to a greater or lesser extent. If I can manage it, I'll send pictures.  Wish us luck.

It could be worse, you know.  It could be Dallas in the winter.  Oh wait...

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Brave New...Whatever

Thanksgiving pic. Aren't we cute?
Belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everybody!  Yes, I know it's been ages since I blogged.  You should see my Christmas letter--oh wait, you can't because it's not done. Well, it's almost done.  Well, I think I'll get it mailed this week. Maybe. Possibly.  It's been that kind of holiday season.

I don't make New Year resolutions because I've discovered that they're basically a setup, but if I did, I'd be promising to blog more.  The original idea was every Thursday morning.  That worked pretty well for a long time, particularly when I was participating in the Talk Thursday discussion tree, but it sort of fell out of favor in the last year or so.  Probably just the incursions of Life, with its sub-incursions of Work, Household Stuff and of course Sleep.  Honestly, though, I will try to blog more, and since Thursdays worked pretty well for a long time, I'll see you again in two days.

Wait, hold on a second.  I should at least tell you what's going on.  The odd answer, though, is not very much.  I'm driving a lot because Joan can't drive because she can't see, but other than that it's just swimming, work, home, household chores, writing a little, meditation and other Buddhist-y things. I mean, there are crises every now and again--we have a sick cat, for example; three times to the vet in the last three weeks--and big major household repairs that need to be done for which I have no clue where the money will come from.  But other than that, just the stuff that is.

I think what may be going on here is that I've hit middle age like it's a giant pillow.  Or maybe an air bag.  I haven't felt like going out to bars, picking up 18-year-old ingenues and driving drunk like a character in a bad Hemingway novel, but I am about to turn 48 here, and I do think I'm having my version of a midlife crisis.  It's maybe time to admit that certain things are simply Never Going To Happen.  I'll probably never play backup keyboards for Herbie Hancock, for example, both because I don't play keyboards and because Herbie Hancock doesn't need any help.  I'll probably never be first bassoon for the Philadelphia Orchestra, either, unless someone dies and makes me God, and my odds of ever climbing to Everest Base Camp to check out the mountaineering scene are shrinking exponentially by the day.  Something about high-altitude cerebral edema and being out of the reach of Western medicine.

Or, as Annie Lennox put it, "This is the book I never read/ These are the words I never said/ This is the path I'll never tread/ These are the dreams I'll dream instead."

Which is another way of saying, "Let's just wing it and see what happens."