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

Monday, April 11, 2016

Mini-Post: The Visitor

(not for arachnophobes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

He Had Me At "Motherf___er"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kindle This

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 11, 2016

Brother ChiSing: 1969-2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 25, 2016

We Interrupt This Blog For An Announcement.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Medical Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Swimming Anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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