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

Thursday, December 28, 2017

State of the Blog Report

Y'all, I'm sorry.  I've let the ridiculousness of my life take over and suck up all the time needed for blog posts.  Well, that's part of the story.  The other part is that I'm in the middle of, or hopefully toward the end of, a low period, where extra energy for stuff like blogging simply eludes me. I've also been cranky, mopey and hard to live with.  But, I made it through Christmas, I have four days off after Friday and then the first week of January I start a new job.  Because definitely what you should do in the middle of a low period is go out and find another job. I mean, that only makes sense, right?

Well, sometimes the timing of stuff is not perfect.  Sometimes people call you based on a resume you sent to them like six months ago and tell you they need to hire you immediately, even when it's practically Christmas and nobody, and I mean nobody, is hiring right now.  And sometimes your current job is part of what's making you mopey.  Let's face it, an intermittent lack of electricity, a chronic shortage of copy paper and a heater that can't seem to make it through two weeks without stopping for repairs has a way of getting people down.  I can't tell you where I work now and I can't tell you where I'm going to work then, but I can tell you that the new place has a steady supply of electricity, copy paper and heat.  As an employee, I'm really not that hard to please.  Supply those three essentials and don't sexually harass me and we're good.  Helps if you don't text me on Sunday afternoons with inane questions, too, but I can be flexible on that point.

I will blog more next year.  I think every other Thursday would be a good schedule so we're going to try that out and see what happens.  It's not that there's been a shortage of bloggable substance (that guy who calls himself President, Roy Moore, Joe Arpaio, Vanity Fair, Star Wars, the Russians, discrimination against Muslims, discrimination against black folks, discrimination against basically anybody who isn't white and male and Christian).  Really, it's been a heck of a year.  I'm hoping that years from now, in like 2024 just before Ms. Clinton starts her second term, the whole 2016-2020 period will be like a bad dream and we'll have universal health coverage and carbon emissions will be way down and the deficit will be back under control and Merrick Garland will finally be on the Supreme Court. 

In the meantime, as the year winds down and the entire state of Texas closes until January 2, let it be known that I'm still here, plodding along.  Still swimming.  Still going to OA meetings and hanging out with my meditation group (though I skipped last night; it was 36 degrees, and once I got Joan home after work I was in for the night.  You know how it goes).  Joan's good too.  Still cranking out the social media for the big library downtown.  Still cross-stitching.  Still scooting around with her Rollator.  The house is still standing, the cats are fine and we need a new mattress. 

 In closing here's a picture of me with Artemis the Cat.  Yes, I know my hair's too long.  I got it chopped off shortly after this photo was taken. 

Monday, October 2, 2017

What Happened In Vegas

Well, I had a really good blog post all set to go here, with lots of links and subreferences and even a few nice photos, but now I can't run it because after yesterday in Las Vegas it's totally and completely lost its immediacy.  That, and Joan said there were too many things that linked it to the Real Story,  and somebody out there might recognize it, which is a problem because confidentiality and stuff. so I just scrapped the whole deal.  (Yes, Joan vets my blog posts. Well, most of the time.)  Alas, blog post, you are not to be. Also, I walked into the office this morning and one of my cow orkers immediately said to me, "Do you think the world's getting worse all the time, or was it always this bad?" which is, you know, slang for hello, I guess.  

And I told him the truth.  I told him I didn't think the world was any worse today than yesterday, or yesterday than it was the day before, but the interconnectedness of everything (by which I meant primarily the Internet, but I'll come back to this) means we hear about everything that happens regardless of where or why or who's involved.  Plus, there are more of us now than there ever were, so by definition more stuff is going to happen.  You just have to figure in a population of X number of humans, X / Y equals the number of violent events that could feasibly happen, so an increase in X will proportionally increase Y.  Or something like that.  

(Incidentally, did you know that we use X as an unknown because in Spanish, there's no sound like "sssh"?  The character that the Arabs use to denote the unknown was pronounced "sssh," but when they were translating the first algebra texts from Arabic to Spanish, the scholars didn't have any equivalent sound.  So they borrowed the X, which is pronounced "ch," which was close, from the Greek alphabet.  And that's why the unknown is X.  Just fyi.)  

Anyway, to be honest, I don't know if the world is getting worse all the time, but I don't think it's really getting any more violent.  I think up until the 1960s and maybe even a little later, the majority of violence in this country went on behind closed doors, and was inflicted primarily on women and children.  In the 1960s, with divorce being more acceptable, women starting to figure out they were human beings too and just a general refusal to subject kids to this kind of thing, men who would ordinarily beat their wives and kids, found themselves with fewer wives and kids around to beat.  So they moved out of their homes and, I dunno, started fights with other people in the harsh light of the rest of the world.  Well, that's one of my theories, anyway. I have a lot of em.

One thing I don't have, though, is a theory that explains mass shootings of innocent people.  I doubt very many of us do.  My understanding is that this guy killed himself, like a lot of mass shooters do, before the police got there, so we're not going to know what made him tick, at least from his ownself.  I'm sure there'll be forensic examination of this guy's diaries, bank account, family members, political views, religious beliefs, the manifesto he left behind (if any) and half a dozen other things, which will ultimately tie into somebody's pronouncement that "This guy experienced X (see the unknown again?), and so he did Y."  Which will make us feel safe again, because obviously X is a very rare occurrence and we don't experience X in our own lives, so there won't be another Y anywhere we might happen to be.

Which is all great, right?  We all need explanations for This Sort of Thing.  Even more so, I think we need to believe that somebody somewhere is taking care of all the Xs.  But here's the Buddhist theory, and I promise you're not going to like it:  This event happened not because of one crazy guy and his experience with X, but because we all, as a group, have forgotten our true nature--that is to say, our interconnectedness with other beings.  And in the process, we evidently failed this guy in about the worst way you can possibly imagine.

Told you you weren't going to like it.  

See, if you listen to Thich Nhat Hanh (and I do, though I argue with him a lot, at least in my head) you can't possibly miss how dependent we all are on each other for basically everything we need to get through life, not to mention being happy and healthy.  I can't phrase this as well as Thay* can, but let's take a piece of paper, for example.  If you look at a piece of paper, you can start to see that it contains the entire universe.  Don't believe me?  Think about it.  The sun is contained in that piece of paper.  If there were no sun, then the tree that eventually became the paper would never have existed.  There's also a tree in the piece of paper, obviously.  There's rain, there's rich soil and loam, and the farther you get into this, the bigger it becomes.  The logger who cut down the tree is contained in that piece of paper. No logger, no cut tree; no cut tree, no paper.  The mother and father of the logger are contained in that piece of paper.  And I mean, when you start doing this (and you should try it, it's really neat) you will eventually realize that there isn't anything in the universe that isn't also in that piece of paper.  Including you.  Because if you didn't need paper to write on, the sheet of paper wouldn't exist, or it would exist in some other form, or some other person would be holding it. 

The same holds true for us as human beings.  We contain and are connected to and are part of every other being that has ever existed, that exists now and will ever exist.  (This is why I think the Buddhist theory of reincarnation is just very slightly wrong, but we'll do that one another time).  You can do nothing for yourself. Nothing, do you get that?  Everything you do and will do is completely dependent upon the existence of other beings.  You can't, for example, buy a house by yourself, because someone had to build the house, and someone had to pave the road to where the house stands, and someone had to install air conditioning and electricity and so on, and--yeah. Keep going.  You'll have the whole universe in your house in no time.  

(Remember when Obama said, "You didn't build that" and everybody freaked out?  He was right, people.  He wasn't as articulate as Thich Nhat Hanh, but then, few people are.)  

Back to our shooter, though.  The only way you can possibly want to do harm to other people is if you forget your interconnectedness to them.  Otherwise, shooting them would be like shooting yourself.  If you forget your interconnectedness, then you're drowning in delusion, as Thay would say.  When you become enlightened, you realize the complete and absolute reality of interconnection.  (Or so they tell me; I was only there for a second, not really long enough to get a good look at the landscape or the trees or even all of the rocks.)  And then your heart will always belong to others and you will want nothing but the best for them, because what benefits them will ultimately benefit you. 

So how do we get there, you ask.  How do we get people to understand they're fundamentally interconnected to everyone else.  Well, we're working on it, one heart at a time, but what you can do right now is take a look at the barriers you use to keep other people out.  Do you really need them?  Maybe it's time for some of them to come down.  Maybe it's time to be more honest about what you're thinking and feeling with the people you're close to.  Maybe it's time, in other words, to be more yourself.  To be more compassionate, with yourself and everyone else. And to be willing to love other people, no matter how obnoxious they are. 

It's risky.

But consider the alternative.  

*Thich Nhat Hanh is often referred to as Thay, an honorific.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Because Cake Is Speech, And Other Stories

Thich Nhat Hanh, in case you did not know this, is a big proponent of what he calls "engaged Buddhism."  Which means that he thinks monks should leave the monastery whenever it's appropriate, go out into the world and do everything they can to relieve suffering.  And that so should the rest of us. While that sounds logical, it was pretty radical in the 1960s, so you can safely call Thich Nhat Hanh a 60s radical.  In fact I think he'd be pleased.  And I think he'd also be pleased to know that my gang of Buddhists, or a small faction of them, anyway, went to Richardson City Hall here in North Texas last Sunday to put together meals for people in shelters after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.  They were vegetarian meals, just incidentally, and I was in charge of weighing the finished product to make sure it was between 320 and 330 grams. Sounds easy, but it wasn't, actually; especially when the meals were coming at me like an assembly line. I'm so glad I don't work on one of those.  Anyway, together we cranked out 65,000 meals, which is a lot of meals.  Here's a pic of me and the gang in front of a stack of finished product.

I'm hoping that this will be the first of many volunteer thingies we do as a group.  My thoughts are, if you're going to be part of a visible religious body, you sort of owe it to people outside that body to show them what it's all about.  One of the reasons I hung around so long with the Lutheran church in San Diego was that we fed the homeless meals every night, and we had chiropractors and doctors come in to treat people for free, and we had a lawyer who came down and helped people get Medicaid and food stamps, and oh yeah, we had this church over here, too, and if you came by on Sunday you'd hear some pretty good music and maybe learn something, but that's kind of ancillary, you know?  It's about being the message, not just carrying the message.

Speaking of strange messages, the Department of Justice just submitted a friend of the court brief in the infamous "Cakegate" case (which I'll get to in a second) stating that cake, the lovable confection that for me at least is the black tar heroin of the food family, is free speech.  That is, if you make a cake, and you decorate it, and it says something like "Congratulations, Larry" or even if it doesn't say anything and just looks pretty, you have made an artistic statement and you should be free to do so.  Nobody should tell you that you can't make a certain cake (except maybe the Laws of Physics, the inflexible bastards) and nobody should tell you that you must make a certain cake.  In fact,  "...(F)orcing (the cake guy) to create expression for and participate in a ceremony that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs invades his First Amendment rights in a manner akin to the governmental intrusion in Hurley. Colorado has not offered, and could not reasonably offer, a sufficient justification for that compulsion here." Brief for the Department of Justice as Amicus Curiae, p. 8, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Civil Rights Commission, no. 16-111, Supreme Court of the United States.

The Cakegate case all began one sunny day in Colorado (or hell, maybe it was a snowy day; I don't know) when a couple who wanted a wedding cake sat down with the cake guy at his "cake consulting table" at his business, Masterpiece Cake Shop.  When the couple told the cake guy they wanted a cake for their wedding, the cake guy told them he couldn't do it because of his religious faith and because the state of Colorado (then) didn't recognize same-sex marriages. (Did I mention the couple were two men? No? Okay, the couple were two men.)  And that might have been the end of it, but then somebody's mother got involved (I'm not kidding; the brief actually says this) and the couple ended up complaining to the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which determined that in fact the couple had been discriminated against.  The cake shop appealed to an administrative law judge, motions and countermotions started flying through the air, and a whole bunch of legal stuff happened that's really not relevant here.  Suffice to say that the case was eventually accepted for review by the Supreme Court, and now the Justices are going to have to decide if cake is speech, or if cake is, you know, just cake.  Now that the Department of Justice has weighed in, though, it gets even more interesting.  Does the Trump administration eat cake? If so, whose? And only if there's no bread, or what, exactly?

Anyway: I'm really on the fence about this case. Restaurants and other places of public accommodation are usually legally prohibited from discriminating against people and/or couples because they are the "wrong" race or interracial, and it seems like that should also apply to businesses like the cake decorator. But on the other hand, some restaurants will turn away patrons that aren't "properly" dressed or who don't have reservations.  Do they have the right to do that? I'm not sure it's ever been tested, but it would sure be interesting.  Also, Bob Jones University won't let you into their art museum, which I've heard is really top notch, if you're a woman, unless you're wearing a dress, presumably because women's asses might distract men (and some women) from the art.  (They have wrap skirts available for pants-wearing female would-be patrons.  I am not kidding.)   Do they have the right to do that? It's a private university and a privately-owned museum, so you'd think they do, but it's also a "place of public accommodation," so maybe they don't. If there's ever a legal case about this I suggest we call it Skirtgate.

Also, I want a right as a business person and as an individual to turn down a job I don't want to do. Maybe I'm discriminating against you because you're a cake-wielding asshole, but also maybe because you're ugly and I don't like your suit.  I'm also a Buddhist, in case that's not screamingly obvious, and because of my faith, I wouldn't work for a company that, say, made weapons or championed the death penalty. (Yep, the DA's office is Right Out.)  If I were a private contractor and I made my living writing legal briefs for people, I'd want to be able to turn down a gig from the DA's office or some company that made weapons, if I knew about it.  I probably wouldn't tell them it was religious, though. I'd probably just say I was totally swamped right now and couldn't get to it.

Which leads to another interesting question.  If Cake Guy had told our couple that he was swamped and couldn't do their cake, would we even be having this conversation? I'm not saying that he should have said that, if he felt like he'd be lying, but what if you genuinely are swamped and you genuinely can't get to the project, whatever it is? Would you have to prove that in court?  I can see it now; Cake Guy and his lawyers carefully balancing the other seven cakes Cake Guy had to make that week on the way through security to get to the courtroom.  Oops, dropped one.  What a mess.  Get one of the security sniffer dogs.

So I don't know how I feel about this whole Cakegate thing.  I can see, however, that depending on how the ruling is written, it could be catastrophic for either A. people's individual rights or B. the rights of other people not to be discriminated against in public.  Sounds like a pretty delicate juggling act.  In case I haven't said it lately, I'm so glad I'm not on the Supreme Court.  If I were, I'd have to throw this ruling out of the airplane as I left the country for somewhere like Sweden, where same-sex marriage has been legal since 2009 and there's universal health care, besides.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Just Fly Casual

I wouldn't want you guys to think I'm not doing anything creative, even though I haven't cranked out anything literary in a while.  I have a WIP and every time I get to it, I'm adding at least a page. The trouble is not getting to it often enough.  Something about the number of hours in the day and how I need to spend a certain amount of them sleeping. But I have been up to something.  I happen to be a big fan of 8 1/2 x 11 wirebound journals ruled front and back, the kind made by Piccadilly Inc. and occasionally sold at Half Price Books.  They're great journals but even at Half Price, they're not easy to find. And when you do find them, you may find four copies of the same one.  In this case, I found four journals with a cover from the woodcut series, The Great Wave Off Kanegawa.  (You've seen it dozens of times, but hey, now you know what it's called.  You learn something new on the Internet every day, right?)  Now, I like the painting, but I don't need four of them all the same.  So I set out to create new covers for these things.

I'm not sure what I was actually intending to do with this one.  I remember mixing up the caramel color for the background and being delighted when it was Just Right, but I don't know what I was going to do with it after I got the color down.  Whatever it was, though, I changed my mind halfway through and decided to go for the Sea Life with Jewelry theme.  Sort of like if somebody dropped their jewelry box over the side of a boat (I'm sure that happens all the time) and the box burst open on the way down, drawing a bunch of curious fish and crustaceans. If I'd had the idea for the sea life theme a little sooner, I could have gone with a blue background, but actually, the caramel sets off the red pretty well and I'm not sure the blue would have done.

When I was doing the back for this one, I made the accidental discovery that black gesso covers up one hell of a lot better than white gesso.  Of course, it's also black, so anything you're going to use against it has to be pretty bright.  I have an old fish pin (made by Oscar)  that might work if I can find a way to affix it in there.  Maybe I'll scoop out some of the cardboard cover in a fishy shape with an Exacto and see if I can settle it in there with Gorilla Glue.  Yeah, fish are a continuing theme.  Big fan of fish, me.  I miss my aquarium, not that I could have one with Artemis the Hunter Kitten in the house.

I haven't been remiss in my making of jewelry, either, in case you were worried:

Meanwhile, back in the real world...

Presumably you're all  Star Wars junkies, or at least familiar with the basic tenets of the movies, so you probably remember the scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Han Solo's ship, the Millenium Falcon, is sneaking up on the big Imperial fleet.  Han Solo says to Chewbacca, "Keep your distance. But try not to look like you're keeping your distance." Chewbacca says, "Gronk," which as far as I can tell is the extent of his vocabulary.  And Han Solo says, "Just fly casual."

Which is where I am in my employment history.  Just flying casual.  I'm looking, but I'm trying not to look like I'm looking.  This has made for many humorous moments (changing into and out of a suit in the ladies' room of a RaceTrac, being late to work and blaming traffic, going to pick up medical records and, as long as I was out, going to a job interview, stuff like that).

It might be a long search.  For the first time in, I think ever, I'm confined by geography. Now, I have driven to work and I have taken trains, I have commuted on buses and I have even walked to work, but now I have to be downtown, or near downtown, or no more than 20 minutes from where Joan works, in bad traffic, in case I have to take her somewhere. This rules out a job in Plano, which is unfortunate because Plano is exploding right now.  Southwest Airlines just opened an office in Plano, Toyota just moved one of its major plants to Plano and Plano is officially one of the fastest growing cities in Texas and maybe in the whole United States. Unfortunately, all those people pouring into Plano is making the 75 freeway (the main artery between Plano and Dallas) basically impassable during rush hour. It's not 10-20 minutes from downtown Plano to downtown Dallas; it's more like an hour, and sometimes longer.  So Plano is out.  If Joan needed to see a doc or something in the middle of the day, I'd have to take off the whole morning or afternoon to make it happen. And it's weird, but recruiters get huffy when you say you can't work in a certain area or you need to stay close to another area.  It's like, "Oh, are you too good to commute with the rest of us?" Like driving 45 miles one way to work and burning lots of gasoline is a badge of achievement or something.

Second, I'm old.  Well, not that old, but old enough that employers are starting to wonder why I haven't settled down in some nice retirement track job for the duration of my twenty-odd years left in the world of work.  Despite the fact that I don't "look" old, my graduation date from college isn't getting any fresher, and that's kind of a dead giveaway for how old I am (unless I graduated very early in life, which I didn't, and I don't think anyone would assume I did). Now, being old has some advantages (gobs of experience) and disadvantages (I might be curmudgeonly and set in my ways).  I think for the most part, though, employers would rather hire somebody in their early 30s (old enough to know how to behave in an office setting, not so old that they can't learn a new trick or two).  And I don't really look like I'm in my early 30s anymore. I could probably pass for around 40, though.

I'm also fat, which doesn't help either.  There's scads of studies out there about hiring managers and their fear of fat people.  If you're looking for a job around here, you can't go wrong to be skinny, blonde, 30 something and a graduate of UT.  But I keep applying for stuff anyway.  Something's got to open up sooner or later.

In the meantime, maybe I'll get a raise so I can stay where I am.  It could happen.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rain in the Summertime

Well, we've reached the end of Swim for Distance Month and I have a total of 27,400 meters notched onto my goggles.  (Just kidding about notching my goggles. That would hurt the goggles.)  Which comes to a total of just over 17 miles.  That's neither as far as I wanted to come or as not-far as I thought it would probably be.  In short, it is Just Enough.  I have earned &a t-shirt and some bragging rights, and the North Dallas Food Bank has earned $17, though I will probably just send them a full $20 because why the hell not.  I just wish I could get the whole swim team doing this so we could send them lots of money.  I haven't sold them on this concept yet.  Maybe next year.

Meanwhile, The Alarm came to town, and everything else just pretty much ceased to be important.

I should back up a little.  If you've been hanging around these parts long enough, you know that my favorite band is Big Country. That's the Scottish band that had the one big hit in 1983, won the Best New Artist Grammy (or was at least nominated for it; I forget which) and then disappeared like smoke.  Only they didn't disappear, of course; they just fell victim to the vagaries of the Copyright Act of 1985 and some bad management decisions and never really made it back across the ocean again.  But, they continued as a band in Europe and the rest of the world, put out eight brilliant albums over twelve years before their lead singer, Stuart Adamson, died tragically in Hawaii. And yes, there's this whole long story about that, and no, I'm not going to tell you about it, because I'm sure I've told that story here before and a lot of it is rampant speculation on my part anyway.

Back to the important part, though.  Big Country was without a singer.  In 2011, almost ten years after Stuart's death, Big Country's 30th anniversary came up and fans were demanding some kind of gathering to celebrate (this was in the U.K., though people I knew from the U.S. actually did fly over there to attend it).  In order to have an actual band for the occasion, the surviving members of Big Country called up Mike Peters, the lead singer of the band The Alarm (biggest hit: Probably "Rain in the Summertime") and asked him to fill in.  There's this funny story, which is probably totally bogus, that Mike was halfway up a mountain in Wales at the time and accepted the job on his cell phone while hanging from a carabiner.  Anyway, the show went unbelievably well, everybody loved it and Big Country asked Mike to stay on full time.

Which he did, and Big Country ended up recording The Journey, its first studio album since 1994, in 2013.  The band did a tour of Europe and the United States, including three shows in Texas that I, Jen, went on the road to see (taking along a reluctant Joan, who doesn't do concerts).  Yes, I followed a band around Texas.  No, I'm not considering a future career as a Dead Head.  It was actually really hard work.  But the shows were brilliant, Mike Peters is awesome, and no matter what happens in the future or what else he ends up doing, I will always think of him as The Guy Who Brought Big Country Back From The Dead.  Which, you gotta admit, is a pretty nifty epitaph if you need one.

After three years, Mike Peters returned to The Alarm.  That was actually fine, because The Alarm is my second favorite band (though the new-ish band, Fun., is jockeying for position in there somewhere). Now The Alarm is on tour, and darned if they didn't come to Texas for three shows.  Did I drag out the Toyota and follow them from Austin to Houston to Dallas?  Er--no.  It was a lot of work last time.  But I thought about it.  And I saw them last night at the Gas Monkey Bar and Grill on a VIP ticket in the balcony, so there.  They played for almost two hours and every time I thought, "Now, how are they going to top that?" they did.  I got home after midnight.  Which was fine.

Here's a pic from my balcony seat:

And here's a short video clip:

And for those of y'all who still haven't heard "Rain in the Summertime," here it is.


Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mini-Post: More Swimming Kittens

So how's she doing, you might want to know.  Is she any closer to 20 miles in the pool?  Well, yes and no.  It's been a mixed bag this year.  For one thing, I've had some completely awesome meter counts.  More than half my swims so far this month have been 1800 meters or higher.  On Sunday, I logged 1900 meters, and Monday I logged an almost-unheard-of 2000 meters.  That's 1 1/4 mile, in case you want to know.

However, my overall meter count is a little disappointing.  I'm at 15,300 as of yesterday which is 9.5 miles.  A little less than halfway there.  I was hoping I'd be more than halfway and on the downside by now.  But:  I have approximately 8 swims left this month (maybe 9, if I can cram in an extra someplace).  One of them is also a "power swim," which lasts an hour and a half and is totally uninterrupted, so I can see that leading to some serious meterage.  If I continue cranking out 1800 to 1900 meters per swim, I should at least hit 19 miles and maybe have a shot at 20.

In anticipation, then, of something at least approaching 20 miles, I would like to post these pictures of kittens being cute.  Because who doesn't need a cute kitten or two in the middle of the work day?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Swimming Kittens

So I've done another painting.  Looking at it from this perspective, it actually looks better than it did sitting on my kitchen table.  Or else I photograph really well.  This is our kitten, Artemis, looking out the back door, which is one of her favorite things to do in the morning.  I'm calling it  "K.O.P." - Kitten On Patrol.

I was going to call this a partial fail, owing to the kitten, but in retrospect I think I'll keep it anyway.  The screen door, anyway, looks rather amazingly like our actual screen door.  The kitten needs some work.  How do you make something look fluffy?  And don't tell me oil paints.  I'm sure that's probably the answer but there are reasons I don't use oil paints and they are big, messy, flammable reasons.  But hey, Michaelangelo didn't learn this stuff in a day, or anything.  And the next thing I want to do is an abstract, anyway.  Just playing around with colors and shapes and such.  Namely bright red squares.  I've been kind of enamored of bright red squares lately.

Meanwhile, the whole month of June just kind of flew by.  There was that trial in the middle of it (and that's a whole nother blog post), which helped to speed things along, but have you guys noticed how the older you get, the faster time seems to go by?  I could swear this time last year it was only about April.  I blinked and it was July.  Then I blinked again and it was the Fourth of July, and I had a day off work in the middle of the week. Which was, you gotta admit, kind of cool.

Holy cow, it's frick'n the 6th of July already and I haven't said one word about Swim for Distance Month!  Yep, it is that time again.  If you've hung around here for a while, you know that every July, my swim team sets out to outdo itself by swimming as far as humanly possible over 30 days.  Well, I am not off to a very good start, but part of that's the weather's fault.  I logged a very darn respectable 1800 meters on July 3, and then things sort of went downhill.  July 4's swim was canceled due to, uh, lightning, around which you really don't want to be in the water anyway.  Then that night we went out to see fireworks, of course, so I got home about 11 and getting up 6 hours later to do a swim just kind of did not happen.  So the next day I can get back into the pool is Friday, which is the 7th.  Again, not a great start.

But, have no fear. If I swim Friday, Saturday and Sunday I'll still have nabbed four swims for the week.  (And yes, I can do that.)  The minimum for Swim for Distance Month is 16 days of swimming, and if I keep to my regular schedule I'll get at least 17.  If I throw in Sundays, and I probably will, I could easily end up with 20 days.  That could very well lead to 22 miles.  Now, there are guys on this swim team who easily knock off two miles in a practice and more.  They're the fast, skinny Olympian types with the big hands and the long arms.  I am neither skinny nor in possession of long arms, but I like swimming anyway and I'm aiming for 20. 20 is a good number.  It is, in fact, the number of dollars in a $20 bill.  And...

(Oh no. She's going to start shilling for charity.)

Yep, I'm going to start shilling for charity!  I am once again asking y'all to please pledge me by the day, or by the mile (1600 meters = 1 mile, and most swims I'm averaging 17-1800 meters) to raise money for the charity of your choice.  Last year we got ourselves a water buffalo from Heifer, International, which was grand, but I'm not that organized this year so I'm just asking folks to pick a charity they like and part with $20 for it by the end of the month (provided I knock out the 20 miles).  I personally am going with the North Texas Food Bank.  If you can't think of a charity and you wanna be part of this anyway, you can send me your $20 at the end of the month and I'll send it to North Texas Food Bank along with mine.  Hey, I get the exercise, you get to feel good about doing something to help the less fortunate and a bunch of charities get some extra dough. Win win win.

Maybe for my next painting I'll paint myself swimming.  Wait.  That might be kind of hard.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Freaky Friday

No, Jodie Foster does not appear in this blog post. Though it'd be really cool if she did.  I mentioned Annie Lennox once and got something like a thousand hits, which considering this blog is read by maybe two or three people is just amazing. So mentioning Annie Lennox and Jodie Foster in the same blog post might just break the Internet.  No, I'm talking about last Friday, during which a storm of Biblical proportions hit Dallas right around rush hour and lightning hit my building (!!).

 I've had at least one close encounter with lightning before, that I can remember.  I was driving on a Sunday and the hair started to stand up on the back of my neck and then lightning hit the building I was driving past.  It was loud and scary, but I was moving so there really wasn't a lot of danger.  I mean, even God has trouble hitting a moving target.  Ask those bagpipers who played while marching up and down the beach on D-Day and tell me if I'm wrong.

Anyway, I was at my desk on the second floor.  Minding my own business.  Typing away.  The thunderstorm is pounding overhead.  Then suddenly the brightest light I've ever seen in my life comes screaming through the windows.  You know those big spotlights they use to advertise theme parks and attractions and whatnot?  Well, it was like somebody pointed two or three of those babies right in the window. My hand was out, and I was looking at it, and I could see the bones inside my hand.  Like in an X-ray.  And my first thought, even before the What is that bright light? and the And holy crap, what's that noise?! was how little they are.  I mean, finger bones are just tiny.  They're like less than a third the width of the actual finger.  I mean, I know there's connective tissue and muscles and stuff like that all around them, and skin overtop, but seriously, they just seemed so small.  How do they hold together and keep your hand from, I dunno, just falling apart?

Oh, and here's an interesting detail.  I had on fingernail polish, like I usually do.  And on the longest ends of the fingers, where the fingernails were, I couldn't see the bones.  Just below that and extending back into the hand.  It was like the fingernail polish made the fingers opaque.

Did I mention the noise?  I mean, we've all heard thunderclaps, and they can be loud, but this sound sounded like the world splitting open about an inch from my ear.  I think it was the sound of the actual air being ripped apart to make way for the lightning bolt, which was of course miles long, and then slamming back together again a nanosecond later. I probably jumped two feet.  My ears rang for 10-15 minutes afterward.  Loudest sound I've ever heard in my life.  Definitely it was move over, Manowar.  But it only lasted, again, about a nanosecond.  Then the thunderclap.  Which was also pretty damn loud.

The power was knocked out immediately.  Everything went dark.  (And I was right in the middle of an email, and now I can't remember who it was to, or why I was writing it.  Hope it wasn't important.)  When it seemed safe to stand up I made my way to the stairs and down to the lobby.  The receptionist yelled at me to come over to where she was.  I did, and she pointed out the front door to the crack in the pavement next to the metal bench, from which small tendrils of smoke were still rising.  She'd actually seen the thing hit about 10-15 feet away.

Well, after about 15 minutes of everyone standing around in the lobby and several cell phone calls to the power company, the manager announced that it'd be 7 or 8 in the evening before we got power back, and that was only if the fuse box was still intact.  (It was.)  So the group began to dissipate.  I made my way out into amazing traffic, crawling through puddles of two-foot-deep water to get downtown to pick Joan up from the library.  My recently-electrified status does not seem to have affected my driving. I still won't go over 40 mph on wet pavement, much to the dismay of people behind me. (The problem with Texas freeways is having to share them with other Texans.)

So anyway, that's my hit-by-lightning story.  I'm glad the bolt didn't actually pass through me, because I did some research afterward about lightning-related injuries and it doesn't sound fun.  Besides, I was accidentally electrocuted as a kid (house current levels) and that wasn't fun either.   Remember, without eternal vigilance, this could happen to you.  Oh, and here's a link to a company I have no relationship with whatever, that claims it can install a house size surge protector to protect your electronic equipment from a lightning strike.  I have no idea if it actually works, but for $200 to $500 it's probably worth trying. Cheers, all.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mini-Post: Follow-Up to The Great Divide

Okay, I'm gonna go off my nut here and post an article from The Federalist.  Yeah, that The Federalist.  What's more, it's an article written by a man, a conservative man, and it's about abortion, for God's sake.  But I think you guys should read it if you have the time.  Why?  Because this guy is bearing out exactly what I talked about last blog post.  The radical idea that by listening to people who disagree with you, you can maybe learn something.  Now, it happens to be that this guy learned something about one of the hot-button issues of our time, never mind the one issue that I simply can't seem to be rational about no matter what I do.  But don't let that stop you.  Here's a guy who came in with his mind made up and left with some things to think about.  If more people did things like this, then it's possible that a lot of these intractable problems we have wouldn't be so intractable and for that matter, might not even be problems anymore.  So do give him a read.  Here's the article:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Great Divide

--Here comes the great divide.
I walk the slide
That only killers should fear.
Here comes the great divide
I walk the slide
I hope I never fall.

--Stuart Adamson

A while ago Joan installed a "podcast app" on my new cell phone. (I had to get a new cell phone because my old cell phone was flipping into "airplane mode" by itself, and at odd times.  A real problem if, say, my boss wanted to call me.  Naturally, T-Mobile couldn't fix it and gently "suggested" that I get a new phone.)  If you're not familiar with "podcasts," all I can say is, check a few out.  They're like radio programs, usually about half an hour long, recorded by regular people, some with agendas and some who just have a topic they like to talk about and educate other people about.  You download them from the Internet and you can listen to them on your computer, or through your tablet or cell phone or what have you.  Because my cell phone talks to my car somehow (I still think this is magic, or else the little guys inside my cell phone talk to the little guys inside my car dashboard and tell them what to say), I can now listen to "podcasts" while I'm driving to and from work, and in rich, stereo sound, too.  This was a revelation.  Imagine; all this time I could have been learning something instead of bouncing around at intersections and belting out the lyrics to "Come On, Eileen" for the 9,827th time.

Anyway, one of my favorite podcasters is Dan Carlin.  He's a political commentator, in a sense, but he approaches U.S. politics as though he's a space alien who has just come to Earth and is starting to learn a little bit about human society.  He's neither conservative nor liberal but kind of a maddening mix of both, which is what makes him so interesting.  Mr. Carlin has two main podcasts; "Common Sense", which is about politics, and "Hardcore History", which is also about politics but in the context of what happened during, say, World War I or the Holy Roman Empire.  (We interrupt this blog post for a quick plug: Although the podcast about World War I was six episodes long and each episode ran about three hours, it was totally and completely worth the time spent and you should go download all six episodes from his web site right now, while they're still free.)

Up until just before The Election, Dan Carlin was saying in his "Common Sense" podcast that he thought the biggest problem we face as Americans is corruption in government.  What, you might ask, did he think the solution was?  Well, he thought we should vote in an outsider who would do things in a way nobody's ever done them before.  So we did that, and, uh, guess what happened.  Now Dan Carlin is saying no, I was wrong; the biggest problem we face as Americans is not corruption in government, nor Donald Trump, as you might expect, but the fact that a large chunk of our population hates another large chunk of our population.  And the reverse.  Which is where Donald Trump came from.  And there are smaller groups that hate other smaller groups, and those smaller groups hate lots of other small groups, and primarily it's just a great big hatefest out there, and if we're not careful, the whole country is going to break up into a bunch of nationalistic, nuclear, surly little rocks.  Sort of like the Soviet Union did--oops, I'm getting ahead of myself.

 See, back in the 1960s, and even probably up until maybe ten or twenty years ago, if you told somebody the United States might break up, their likely initial reaction would be, "Oh no!  What can we do to preserve the Union?"  Nowadays, the reaction's a lot more likely to be, "Good.  I don't want to live with those people anymore."  Whoever those people may be.  The Jews.  The blacks.  The gays.  The conservatives.  The liberals.  The Society of Left-Handed Spanish-Speaking Librarians Without Tonsils.*  Pick your label.  Depending on who you talk to, you'd be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that in the very near future, you'll have your choice of Californiastan, Texasberg, the Kingdom of Washoregon, Utahsville,  New Yorkguay and the Republic of Gilead--oops, I mean the Confederate States.  (Maine, of course, will make like a tree and join Canada.) Presumably they'll all have separate currencies and you'll need a passport to travel from one to another. What's more, you'll have to pass an ideology check. No one beyond this point may openly advocate interracial marriage, for example.

So what can we do about this?

Maybe nothing.  Maybe us fragmenting and falling apart would be for the best.  We are using 25% of the planet's resources, after all, which is all the more shocking when you know that we only have 5% of the world's population.  We export our environmental damage by buying lumber from countries that don't have sustainable forests, messily manufacturing our products in countries that don't have air pollution controls, and overfish oceans that aren't subject to our environmental laws.  Breaking us up might be good for the world.  I think it'd be just terrible for us, though.  For all kinds of reasons. I mean, we've been a country for a long time.  It'd be kind of cool if we could keep on being one.

Dan Carlin isn't sure what to do, but I have a suggestion. It's kind of Buddhist-y, but here it is: Let's try actually listening to each other, instead of just seeing who can shout the loudest.  Let's get to know some of our neighbors who think differently than we do. And more to the point, find out why they think differently than we do.  How they came to those conclusions.  What pieces of information they considered.  And whether or not they're convinced of the truth of those pieces of information and, if they're not, if they've ever considered any other pieces of information that might point to a different conclusion. And (here's the hard part) let them get to know the same things about us.  And give us the same pieces of information.  After all, we might be wrong about a thing.  It's not unheard of.

In Buddhism we have this thing called "nonattachment to views."  About which there have been lots of words written, but what it basically boils down to is, "I might be wrong.  Therefore I'll listen and see if I can learn something."

How important is nonattachment to views?  Well, Right View is one of the eight things on the Eightfold Path that leads to enlightenment.  And I quote:  "“Right View” is also called “right perspective”, “right vision” or “right understanding.”...You need to see the world and yourself as they truly are, not what you have been conditioned to see."  And nonattachment to views is a big part of this.  In short, if you've grown up, say, in a country that has a dominant religion, and you and your family are of a different religion, you could perhaps be forgiven (at least for a while) for thinking that people of the dominant religion are inherently bad, evil, or otherwise nasty--especially if people of the dominant religion went out of their way to harass, repress and terrorize you.  (And I have no experience with this whatsoever, as I'm sure you know.)  But, once you got out there in the world and met some of the people of this dominant religion, you might learn that they have the same dreams, aspirations and ambitions as you do, that they want all the same things you want, and that just because they believe something other than what you believe, they're all individuals and it's unfair to paint them all with the same bad/evil/nasty brush.  Even if they've done the same to you.  Which, let's face it, a lot of them have.

We have so many choices anymore for our sources of information, and it's easy to get stuck in a bubble by turning only to those sources of information that support things we've already made our minds up about anyway.  Like, say, watching only Fox News, logging in only to Breitbart, and hanging around only with the #tcots on Twitter.  Conversely, you might watch nothing but CNN, log in only to The Daily KOS and hang around only with--with--I'm not sure there's an opposite label from #tcot.  But if there is one, that's the one I mean.

So what am I suggesting, you may ask.  Am I suggesting you watch Fox News for ten minutes a day?  Follow Karl Rove on Twitter? Log in to LifeSite News, for crying out loud?!  Well, yes, sort of, but more to the point, I'm suggesting you actually talk to people.  People people.  Human beings people. People who think differently than you do.  Find out why they think differently.  Ask them what they believe.  Here's a thing--people love talking about what they believe.  Get them started and you probably won't have to say a word for ten minutes or more.  Excellent tip for cocktail parties where you don't know anybody and you're only there to be arm candy for your wife.

And if you can, without being obvious, ask people why they believe what they believe.  And don't take "Because that's what it says in the Bible" as your answer.  Come back with "Okay, but you decided to believe that the Bible is true. When did you decide to do that?  What happened?"  And maybe the person had a born-again experience when he was fourteen or maybe he was in a terrible accident and almost died and thinks that God saved him or maybe he hasn't a clue when he made that decision or why.

Ah, now you are getting somewhere.  You have, after all, just learned something about this person that you didn't know before.  Maybe it will be enough to alter your view of him.  Maybe not, but more to the point, he's learned something too.  About himself as well as about you. If nothing else, he now knows that you're a good listener.  And what's more, you want to learn things.  Curiosity may have killed some feline back 70,000 years ago, but trust me, intellectual curiosity is about the best asset a human being can have.  Besides being a good listener.  I really think that trumps just about everything.

So that's my suggestion.  Maybe it'll work and maybe it won't, but it's certainly worth a try, isn't it? Because breaking up the country isn't only stupid, it would be really expensive.  You think taxes are high now?  Buddy, just wait until Utahville figures out it needs to host the Olympics again  You ain't seen nothin' yet.

*Not a real political action committee, but wouldn't it be interesting if it were.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Random Ramblings

Item:  Getting a state ID card is just as hard, and in this case more so, than getting a driver's license.  The state of Texas is a little confused that you'd give up a license in favor of getting an ID card instead, so they made it super complex.  At least, I think that is the reason. Next...

Item:  I am now the sole driver in the family.  Insurance rates have gone down appreciably, though not as much as you might think. Next...

Item: It's Joan's birthday.  Happy birthday, Joan!!  Next...

Item: This means it will soon be my birthday too.  Joan and I have birthdays exactly one month, one day and one decade apart.  Next...

Item:  We settled the Big Case at my office, finally.  So no Big Trial and there will be some money.  So I asked for a raise and was told "not sure where our cash flow is at this point...want to do something for my people but I don't know what...I'll think about it."  Which was more or less exactly what I thought they'd say.  At least they didn't say, "No, because we don't like you," which is what I always think they're going to say.  Next...

Item: Having more or less successfully painted this here iris, I'm now painting a pic of our kitten, Artemis, looking out the back door.  Wish me luck, this painting involves actual geometry and, you know, math.  Next...

Item:  You can look up how to contact your senator here.  Since the Senate will be debating a bill that will be stripping affordable health insurance away from anyone who has ever sneezed and can't get insurance from an employer, you might want to say a word or two to that person.  Next...

Item:  I have once again figured out that it is a mistake to keep ice cream in the house.  I don't know why I have to find this out over and over again, but I do.  Next...

Item:  I fired our process server, or rather, I'm not sending our process server any more work, which is the same thing as firing him.  Getting permission to fire him, on the other hand, took four months of screw-ups and noncommunication, as well as several meetings and court hearings, and it was like pulling teeth the whole time.  He still owes me two affidavits that I'm probably never going to see. Cautionary advice: DO NOT HIRE FRIENDS TO DO THINGS FOR YOUR BUSINESS.  It makes it hard to fire them if they do a bad job and it drives. your. paralegal. crazy. Next...

Item:  The Alarm is on tour this summer and will be coming to Dallas, Austin and Houston.  I'm very, very tempted to repeat the Epic Big Country Road Trip of 2013 but I probably won't, that was pretty exhausting and I'm driving to Kansas City to see the eclipse a few weeks after that anyway.  Still, it was a lot of fun, and you can check the Alarm tour dates here.  Next...

Item: By the way, there's a total eclipse of the sun on August 21.  If you've never seen such a thing, I suggest you get yourself into the path of totality forthwith.  I have never seen such a thing, but I understand it's pretty awesome and you kind of get why more primitive men thought the moon might be devouring the sun.

And that's how things are going, for the most part.  Updates to follow. Cheers!

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