Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kurt Vonnegut, I love you!

Kurt gave me this advice just a few days ago. I have to quote it in its entirety. Here goes:

"If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."

Thank you so much for visiting my blog and giving this advice. You made my eyes water, a lot. (That's how Andrew expresses it. Typical 13-year-old boy.) And by the way, Austin may take your advice. He has returned to his fascination with his electric guitar and is making the 3-hour weekend time commitment to go practice and play with the praise band at church. This will become increasingly difficult as marching season really gets fired up, and the band requires about 20 or more hours of his time weekly. And let's not even mention tennis and his heavy academic load.

We watched in amazement as Austin organized a music binder today, complete with color-coded stickies. It was an ah-hah! moment. So he is capable of being organized, when it's important to him. You wouldn't have a clue looking in his room. I always fussed at him for getting a grade of 75 on his math binder check, which the teacher no doubt offered for the chance at an easy A. He did better on his assignments and tests than on keeping them all organized in a binder.

Kurt's advice, by the way, is available to others in his final (?) book, "A Man Without a Country." It's OK for you to read it, even though that section above was meant for me. There may be another section for you in there. But you will be offended if you are a die-hard conservative, because he's just a wild and crazy liberal. He's not optimistic, either. I like to think he's wrong about our self-destruction by environmental or nuclear means.

(He didn't even get to talk about the multi-trillion $ national debt that may well cause a fiscal implosion of the US -- sold to China, without a shot fired. I think this is not a liberal or conservative problem so much as a Congressional one, since Clinton balanced the budget and Bush nearly doubled the size of the national debt during his eight years in office with his lovely wars and the recession.)

Kurt is the absolute expert on the WWII firebombing of Dresden, Germany, by the British. The reason is that he and a few other American POWs were some of the very, very few people to survive it, miraculously, in their bunker. The other 135,000 or so other residents didn't. That made him a great champion for pacifism. Oops! I had to correct an error here. He never served in Vietnam, but the groundswell of protests against that war occurred while he was writing and publishing "Slaughterhouse Five" about his experiences in Dresden.

Hawks are fond of throwing Hitler in your face to try to explain why we need a strong military. We may never be able to do without a national defense (note the important word "defense" vs. "offense"), but let's talk about how wars start for a minute. Most are caused by such base motives as imperialism or money or revenge, or a crazy dictator supported by a nationalist fervor. The Civil War and Revolutionary War were rare exceptions.

Note the USA's burning need to declare war against SOMEBODY after 9/11, and picking Iraq and Afghanistan. Those wars have made us few friends, and many enemies, and did not bring increased security to our country.

I find politics, the usual topic of the editorials I used to write, rearing its head in these entries. The topic is so impure that I am tempted to leave it to another blog, if I must mention political stuff at all, rather than polluting this one. Maybe I have the wrong attitude about this because everyone in the USA seems to have lost the ability to speak with any civility about politics. Or maybe it's always been one of those unmentionables ... sex, politics, and religion, right? ... that cannot allow for polite discourse.

Back to my hero, Kurt, for a moment. I realized that I would love to write a book the way he does, with that thrown-together quality, especially this book which is a collection of essays. Publishing a book like that is so much easier to do when you've established yourself as one of the great American writers of the 20th century.

I could certainly be just as rambling. Yes!! Then I had to laugh, thinking about it. (LOL, in text lingo.) All the rambling ... none of the brilliance, what a book that'd be!

I could keep rambling on, and on, but I guess I should wrap it up here. I need to talk about meditation again soon. (I did it!! About 3 times, 15 mins each, and it was a real life-saver. I have a whole story to tell about it.)

Since I brought up politics, here's the historic Wilson County Democratic Convention where Hillary Clinton supporters went head-to-head with Barack Obama supporters. Hillary eked out a victory here, as I recall.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

East versus West

That last entry is so awkward. Looking at it makes me shiver! But there it will stay, my ugly little baby of yesterday, reminding me not to pin too much hope on my native talent.

To learn to meditate, I suppose I will actually have to do it. But not till I finish listening to the
first of five Zencasts on meditation, so -- whew! -- not today.
This is a pic of Dwaine in a deep meditative state with Mimi, a few years ago, during the winter when it was cold. Will it ever be cold here again?

I prefer to attempt to practice mindfulness in daily living, which is lots of fun because of what my mind does. Isn't "mindfulness" an odd description if the goal is to free oneself from the mind? My mind hops, skips, runs off, wanders, dwells, ruminates in broken patches, and mostly ignores what is happening here and now. Just like my writing! No wonder my memory of actual places and events is so terrible. I wasn't really there, just my body.

In a way, I can sometimes watch my mind rather than being caught up in it. Mostly, I am skidding right along wherever it takes me.

The idea of being mindful at all times (Eastern) is, to me, the same as praying continually, which Paul (Western) exhorts us to do.

So I was sitting on the porch just now, feeling the drowsy warmth -- it's probably about 90, has been by noon most days in recent memory. Scout, our parakeet, is enjoying having his cage hung up outside. I put a dish of water in his cage, which he was eyeing suspiciously. It is supposed to be a birdbath, but we haven't offered him one in years, so it may take him time to acclimate. It's something to challenge his little birdy brain with. The hummingbirds were buzzing around, trying to figure out if they could get to their feeder before I attacked. One even hovered close above me, its single beady eye giving me a careful once-over.

I was being aware of every bite of lunch, and it suddenly seemed I had so much food to eat at this ordinary-sized meal. An abundance of food, because I was slowing down to chew and swallow it.

I think my habit of gulping food and guzzling vast quantities of coffee led to me having a raging case of acid reflux. That, and the way I would wind myself tight as a coil. I could literally feel my stomach (the organ, not my midsection) become a hard little ball at those times. It was not so much what I was eating, as how I was living. I can't say I am cured, but at least the meds are controlling it. I could not live comfortably without them, though. That might require severe lifestyle changes that I am not prepared to make.

I am trying to create space in my life and just let it all be, and that is hard enough!

Most Americans obviously pay no attention to what they eat. If they did, junk food would disappear because people would feel how sick it is making them. I actually can anticipate the leaden feeling a donut will bring me, and it does discourage me from eating one. Strangely, though, it doesn't work for cake.

So what does it say for our culture that junk food is proliferating? And so many people on radio and TV talk shows open their mouths to release streams of trash talk?

About food, I am working on cutting way down on eating beef that is not grass-fed. This is a challenge because beef is the meat of choice for all the men in my family. But Western cows are quite unholy in their negative impact on the environment. It's not just their flatulance, it is their exorbitant energy consumption in relation to the amount of dairy and meat they produce in return. They are very inefficient animals and require vast amounts of grazing pasture.

I don't understand what makes Eastern cows holy. I'll have to look into that.

Terry Gross from NPR had the founder of Beavis and Butthead on her "Fresh Air" show today. He released a movie (?) called "Idiocity" a few years back. The premise was reverse evolution: that people were becoming more and more stupid because all the people low on the intelligence scale were reproducing like crazy, whereas highly educated people were not, and of course, the only natural predators people have anymore are themselves. (Unless swine flu fulfills the advance hype and runs amok.)

I actually got concerned, listening. Reverse evolution (devolution?) could explain Wal-Mart, Glenn Beck, and a whole lot of other stuff. Luckily, no stupid people listen to her show, so there was no one out there listening who would get offended.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Do no evil

We must give up all hope for the improvement of the past.

This is a wonderful Buddhist saying.

I have been weighed down by the guilt of recently past words and deeds of mine that were in error because they were not said in love. I am becoming less and less tolerant of wickedness in myself, though no less human. I will still make blunders, so long as they are not intentional.

So I deleted a post where I spoke ill of others. It had become a poison brew, and guess who was being sickened by it? Me. So I cannot change the past, but I can improve the present.

There is no need to be harsh with others who have done wrong. Discerning, yes. I forget, in all the loveliness that is Buddhist practice, about The Problem Of Evil. Luckily, we recently watched a movie that reminded me about the importance of standing against evil.

If you are wondering, I am still a Christian. I will never forsake my Lord! For me, there is no incompatibility embracing Christianity and Buddhism. But then, I've lived many years, and I don't expect everyone else to understand. I don't even discuss this with my children. One religion is a plenty big hunk to chew off at a time.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Walking with Zen Buddhism

A little Zen update. Me and Gil (my podcast bud, well it's more like love, but it's a long-distance relationship) are getting along very well. It's easy to get along when you can just press the "off"
button to stop someone from talking.

Yeah, I think I'm finding that I am really a rather extreme introvert. Like, as long as I had my podcasts and books, I might be okay for a while with no other actual people around! (Oh, FB friends are pretty fun, too. But they could be computer-generated ... and would I even notice the difference?)

Zen Buddhism has helped me experience flashes of separation from my "engaged, emoting" self. Yesterday, I was getting very worked up about a silly mistake the high school made with my son's ranking. He worked very, very hard last year, plus he's brilliant and all! Yet despite his obvious brilliance, they e-mailed me that he was ranked 277 out of 313 students ... twice. The second one "confirming" this as correct was what got me unhinged. So I was sitting on hold with the counsellor's office, fuming, and suddenly I became aware of my fuming state. And started to inch away from it. Started just breathing. Relaxing the body and mind. Within less than a minute, I was a whole different person.

That was easy! (*By the way, I was NOT rude to anyone, and that initially required all my strength. Stupidity is a pet peeve of mine, even though I occasionally succomb to it myself. I don't suffer fools easily.)

I won't be able to escape from my emotions if a real crisis erupts in my little bitty life, though. (Meditation helps you discover your little-bittiness, and that's a really good thing.) That's why Gil says it takes daily practice, over years and years. He's been doing this stuff since the 1970s, maybe, and he says the mind has such a powerful grasp on a person, even his mind on him, to this day.

A teaching of Zen Buddhism is that we each experience our own reality. This seems radically different from the chief weakness I find in Christianity -- that it is so dogmatic and requires converting the world to the same belief system. It doesn't actually make sense. God loves enormous variety, of all types. Why would he want us all to be the same religion?

If you really discover the "otherness" of each person, you realize that you cannot convert them to your beliefs. Not only that ... you should not try. It is morally harmful to try to impose your belief system on another person. It is thought violence, because it is an attempt to impose your will on their separate spirit, whether it is your beliefs about politics, religion, social justice, or parenting. Let me say that again. It is unwise to try to convert anyone to your beliefs about anything. Consider this with regard to your most sacred beliefs. As soon as your attempts to convert are honestly ended, judgment about others falls away as well. A veil lifts, and you can see others more clearly for who they are, without feeling personally threatened. This is how God views everything on Earth and the universe, as His/Her most precious creation.

It is perfectly fine to share the wealth of your experiences for the benefit of others. People can tell if you are merely trying to convert them, or if you are genuinely sharing to give them the benefit of your point of view.

I also found great meaning in a Vietnamese Buddhist (on a long Zencast) who was sort of fusing Christianity and Buddhism, or at least comparing them. He was asked about all the suffering in the world. In reply, he started talking about the Asian tsunami, which had apparently just happened recently before his talk, and his descriptions were so poignant they brought me to tears. (Not that it's hard to bring me to tears, at all.) He talked about how extended families all vanished, and the ones left had no one to even comfort and be comforted by. There was just no one left. He talked a little about karma, and how large events like this affect us all. So the image of Buddhists as stoic is not accurate. They just like to focus on real suffering and put the self-induced stuff aside. I think.

Karma seems like the butterfly wings in Africa causing a hurricane here, or some such, which I know to be true, though I could never prove it or even defend it. I've felt it, and I know the web that connects us all is very strong and real. Even though I am an introvert. I'm communicating with the world here, aren't I? (In theory, anyhow)

Another super-long post. If you made it this far, thank you!

These Zen podcasts are like essential water to me, like I've been wandering the desert for a long time, and someone finally took pity on me. I cannot describe what a difference this philosophy is making in my life. But I don't think I would have been ready to hear it until now. It is like everything in my life prepared me for this moment, which approaches perfection.

Monday, August 17, 2009

All the Dante I can swallow in a sitting

Here's a nice little excerpt from Dante's Inferno, translated from the Italian. I do have the Italian version on the opposite page but I won't attempt to print it here. This is from Dustin C.'s copy that Austin borrowed many moons ago. I don't own anything quite this artsy.

Within that bog, all naked and muddy -- with looks
Of fury, striking each other ...

"These are the souls whom anger overcame,
My son; know also, that under the water are found

Others, whose sighing makes these bubbles come
That pock the surface everywhere you look.
Lodged in the slime they say: 'Once we were grim

And sullen in the sweet air above, that took
A further gladness from the play of sun;
Inside us, we bore acedia's dismal smoke.

We have this black mire now to be sullen in.'

There, a little literature for you. I don't know if I can wade through the entire narrative. It's very thick, rather like that bog. (This recalls my long-ago post about Emily Dickenson's bog; lots of creativity bubbling in there.) The Inferno, as I find it, is quite old-fashioned. Hellfire and brimstone!! I expect Hell has been remodeled since then and is much more upscale. Anyhow, Hell is one of those bizarre concepts that seems to have been invented by people for their own convenience -- a good place to send all the great unwashed legions, the picked-upon, and the types of folks who deserve what they get. All of them and none of us.

As my friend Karen is fond of saying, are Heaven and Hell "places" or more accurately, where we exist right now? Take care of now, and eternity will take care of itself.

I have had my moments of bathing in sullenness! OK, so maybe it was years, and years. I was entitled, for various reasons. Besides, those always-joyful people making-lemonade-from-lemons can be such a pain in the ass! Someone had to counteract THEM. Now I'm experiencing life with two teenagers, and feeling the pain of being on the receiving end of all that sullenness. I should read them some Dante and see if their mood improves. Ya want to be lodged in the slime for all eternity, kid? Then shape up! I doubt it would translate well, though.

Now I've done my literature workout for the day. Whew! Time to go on a walking meditation, yup, I'll be meditating my heart out (heh-heh).

Who could be sullen with a pic like this to look at?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Morning thoughts

Before 8 am, it is pleasant to be outside. I water everything I can to try to keep it going. We planted new trees in the back to shade the house -- we should have done this 5 years ago, hubby says (or better yet, 15). But then the sun starts to hunt me down, and I come in.

On the way inside, I pick one of the little persimmons growing on the spindly tree. This tree requires three T posts and an old pair of my pantyhose to anchor it upright, but still, birds try to nest in its branches, and it has 2 fruits growing. Life is persistent. I'm not sure what one does with a persimmon tree, but Andrew fell in love with it at Arbolito's nursery and insisted we buy it. The last time I remember actually eating a persimmon was around 1991, on a bank audit trip to Japan.

Here is Andrew with his tree.

I have been trying to stop my mind wandering, playing at "meditation" because it seems so important to those Buddhist people, and to many Christians too. But my mind is a free-range roamer, and it cannot be contained. There is such a thing as walking meditation, where you focus on the lovely steps you are taking on this earth, and of course your breathing (always that). Your mind does not wander to past and future. Better luck with that than I have had! I always thought a good walk was for thinking things through.

I suspect meditation is like praying. You can do many things while in this state of mind. Maybe it's not ideal, but it helps a lot for people like me who have a pathological aversion to being still too long. Maybe stillness is too much like death; I don't know why I have such a problem with it.

This pic is not of our yard, by the way -- pineapples growing in Hawaii. I recently re-discovered pics of us in Hawaii & fell in love with that place again.

Today, as I was watering the garden and looking for the big snake Austin saw yesterday (just to enjoy the sight of it! oh, and to avoid being startled out of my wits by it), the topic of judgment came to mind. Speaking of snakes in gardens ... amazing how the mind makes connections that only become clear later.

Judgment is another human tendency, like anger and rudeness, that is so natural and hard to control. The things that people find to judge each other about can be quite odd. Here's an example. Yesterday, a lady from a local dog rescue organization (Las Lomas) came to pick up the wet food that Sandy used to eat, plus her collar and leash, and a bag of dry food that I had bought for them. She was describing how they assign dogs to "foster" homes -- she currently has 17 -- and as we talked, she asked if I didn't want to save the leash and collar, for us to get another dog. I told her I thought that was unlikely. At this moment, I imagined how easy it would be for her to judge me -- as someone who did not love dogs enough to care for more than one. However, I think she was a very loving person, and with an abundance of love, baser thoughts get crowded out.

But here was a rather quirky way that a dog lover might judge other people: do they own enough dogs, or not enough? And it goes from there. Do their dogs enjoy all the proper perks, eat only the best food (which many dog lovers say excludes all bones), get plenty of attention and exercise (that's difficult for people who work full-time), etc. etc.? I would add, are those dogs neutered??

We all have our "pet" issues! I typed this without even seeing the obvious pun, at first! Believe me, I've got plenty. I despise littering. I can't believe people are so lazy that they don't care about taking better care of the Earth ... that people are spending lots of time, money, and energy arguing about what exactly is causing Earth's temperature to go to Hell, literally, and not caring a whit about decreasing their energy consumption and switching to green energy. As if that were too hard! Whine, whine. That's certainly what the oil and gas lobby wants everyone to believe, and all those wealthy sheiks in the Middle East, and Hugo Chavez ... "Drill here, drill now!!!!!!!!" Yes, drilling for more fossil fuels will surely save us all. Sorry, here I go rushing off on this train of thought. That's how easy it is.

And more: I detest willful ignorance. I cannot stand the thought of people dumping their pets. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. (Do we have any more of those, by the way?)

But then I stop and think about areas where I am vulnerable to being judged. Ouch. Lots of those, potentially. How about my prowess at parenting? How good is my marriage? Do I have a good social support system? Am I doing enough to help address poverty, disease, war, genocide? Never. Or it could be how good I am at my job (some people do care a lot about that); whether I can write worth a fig; whether my walk matches my talk about stewardship of the earth. I did plenty of driving around San Antonio yesterday. Am I really taking proper care of my body with good nutrition and daily exercise? And, do I have enough dogs? (cats, birds, hamsters ...)

So, I think a good repartee to falling into judgment is to stop, pull back, and imagine your weakest point, where you are vulnerable to being judged. Is your body in tip-top shape? Are you satisfied with your work to improve the world? Your marriage, parenting, friendships, career? It doesn't take long to be tripped up.

An enlightened person wants to replace judgment with love, unconditional positive regard for others. The Buddhist practice that I've been listening to describes it as wishing for someone else to be happy. When I heard this, I thought it was so Polly-Annish. Happy, schmappy -- who cares? Happiness is, first, unimportant and, second, a byproduct of a productive life! But I realized that it's an attempt to describe a huge concept in human language. Translating the divine into human terms will always fall far short. I wish for you, happiness. It's noble in its simplicity. Better than saying I wish for you, love -- that hints of judgment. You're obviously not loving enough, so I wish you were more loving. I wish for you, happiness.

I did not see the snake today, by the way. It was swimming in the pond last I saw it. (Or maybe that was a different snake.) Better luck next time.

Footnote: Andrew and I had quite a lot of fun today imagining the reactions we would get if we told everyone, "I wish for you, happiness." How many black eyes, bloody noses, or blank looks could we have received for our troubles?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Psalm and stuff

Excerpt from Psalm 130

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I put my hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
more than watchmen wait for the morning,
more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Ooh, that is out of my Bible (NIV) and it is a ghastly translation. Let me find a better one. Here is the New King James version online:

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.

Imagine, if you think that sounds lovely in English, how beautiful it would sound in its original language, Hebrew. Anyhow, apparently the verse actually is saying something about sentries or watchmen waiting for the morning (several translations touched on that meaning). Well now, that simply ruins it for me. I was thinking back to my prior post about desperation hitting its peak at night, and how the worst feeling is being in that pit of despair at night. You cling to the hope of morning, but sleep does not come. Something about the light seems to diminish the pain of the darkness, even if it truly does not. Everything has to be better in the soft light of dawn.

If this verse speaks to you, look up the entire psalm and read it. The Bible is full of little gems like this, treasures that speak on many levels.

Pastor Janet talked about the entire psalm in her sermon today, one of her better ones. She talked about how Charlie Brown reacts after a visit with "psychiatrist" Lucy; he puts his head in his hands and says, "Where do I go to give up?"

But I'm not thinking about "giving up" life and love and all that wonderful stuff. In fact, I have fallen in love -- I admit it! -- yes, I have!! (A moment of dramatic suspense seems fitting here. Let me drag in a picture.)

Not the greatest pic, but it serves the purpose. Yes, I'm in LOVE! With ...

Zencast. (This is a podcast I've been listening to with my adorable nano-iPod. Nano, nano!)

And the lovely, soft voice of the narrator, Gil somebody. I have no idea what he looks like, but his utterly soothing voice has caressed my ears and my soul for a number of hours now, so everything else is unimportant. He, and me, and he ... it's so meant to be! I think I even hear him in my dreams. Soon, his voice will be narrating my whole life. The best thing is jogging in the morning, the lovely -- dreamy -- Gil, telling me amazing things as I go.

Anyhow, Zencast is a (free) Zen Buddhist podcast I have been listening to religiously, ha ha, for the past two weeks or so. I've been gorging on it, actually, devouring about 3 podcasts a week. Luckily, it has several years' worth of episodes, so it should take me at least a few months to get through it.

I have heard enough to know I totally do not get it, but what a lovely practice!! Buddhists must be the sweetest, gentlest people. Yeah, just like Christians are so forgiving.

There are four noble, or ennobling, truths. See how everything changes with just a tweak in translation. Don't ask me to talk about all of the truths. But -- number one seems to be: the problem is suffering, the Buddha of this world says. (There is a Buddha for every world, and the problem could be different in all of them.) Now, I still don't know if all pain is just this illusory thing, and that I have a problem with, but most pain is caused by our mind's clinging. Check. Absolutely. I totally get that.

So we need to learn to practice meditation (OK, so I don't, unless you count meditating in the car while listening to Zencast; this is still my great weak spot), and undo the powerful bonds between us and our minds. The mind is so capable of dragging us in incorrect directions, it's true. And it is quite sophisticated at luring us off to never-never land -- these posts are one great example of that. "But what's wrong with that?" the clever mind asks. I have to say, it's OK, even really fun -- so long as I can break the connection when you want to drag me into inappropriate feelings, or thoughts. As long as you don't control me, I can use you to do great and awesome things. But most people are not even aware that their actions and reactions are controlled by this false framework, the mind's perspective.

And then what? Once we get the mind under control (snap, it's done!!)? I'm impatient to jump to the end without doing all that in-between stuff, as usual. Of course, it's a lifelong practice, and my new best friend (that would be Gil) explained that.

Gil, just today, was answering the questions as though he and I were conversing, as if he had read my mind. What about social justice, service to others? You can do that while practicing, he says. Then he points out: can you really save the world, or even help it, if you can't even understand yourself? If you still have violence in your self, anger, hatred ... how can you be a role model for others?

Violence, anger, hatred all destroy life -- either literally or life's spark, the soul. Love affirms life. Here is an easy litmus test for what is good, what is evil. Does it create or destroy? Help or harm?

Anyway, this is all helping me refocus on what is important, and what is not, in my own life. The wheat, versus the chaff. Maybe even doing housework can be important and worthwhile. Here's where Buddhism trumps Christianity, in its practical aspects: avoid what is evil. do what is skillful, with love (something like that). be disciplined. simplify your life. be mindful: stay in the moment. whatever you are doing now, give it your full attention and do it with absolute care. If you don't do it with skill, maybe it's best left for someone else. But if you do something and it feels right, and gives you satisfaction, no task is too small or unimportant.

Now I understand why my friend Karen's husband, Bill, wants to wed Buddhism and Christianity. Certainly! He's very much into contemplative prayer, which leads straight into Buddhism.

I have been chasing clouds a very long time. Running, running, running on ice. Now I am feeling it will all be okay if I slow down. It will actually be so much better. I can be more effective if I do less, and do it with focus.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The magic of night

I was up around 6 am, an early start for me, to beat the school kids out to the La Vernia track.

There, in the predawn, I discovered a magical twilight world. On one side, spotlights illuminated workers as a giant mechanical arm sucked concrete from trucks and spread it on a foundation for a new building. On the other side of the track, the La Vernia park had been transformed. Where a few days ago it was empty (in fact, I jogged over there in the grass, a shaky proposition), RVs and smokers and grills had proliferated in preparation for a big cookoff tomorrow.

At least two dozen RVs dotted the landscape, extension cords snaking around to find enough electricity to give them all A/C (otherwise, it would be unbearable in those airless metal shells). It was as though a couple of them had snuck in earlier in the week and made like rabbits, and here was the result. It was not possible that they had all been driven through the park to their grassy spots; in the dim light, it was obvious that they had been birthed there.

Despite the signs of life on either side, it was still quiet and dark. Venus shone below a glorious, almost-full moon. It was nearly cool when the wind breathed. There was just the barest hint that this cruel heat and dry, deadly dry, might come to an end.

Nighttime is a time when the magic of our youth remains alive. The best and worst happen at night. In the light of day, all the phantoms and dreams are too wispy to be real. Only in the dark do they take on substance and inhabit our lives. Night terrors can only happen at night, preferably early in the night, when the hope of salvation is many hours away. Despair is a nighttime emotion. The soul descends to the pit after the sun goes down. Although sunlight is cruel, too, for those suffering from depression, being in the light is still preferable to finding that the darkness outside is mirrored by the darkness within, no relief anywhere.

Nighttime is also a time when the wildest fantasy can almost be caught. Anything is possible again, as it was in childhood. I can fly, or at least fly around the track!

But the morning would not be suspended for long. The sky was lightening more quickly than I could log laps. Venus faded away, and she took the surreal world with her. I could see the day accelerating on the horizon, promising more wicked heat (yesterday was 103 degrees F). It was time to leave before the light became too harsh.

Last night in my dreams, I visited China (Grandma Han was giving us a tour). But visiting La Vernia this morning was just as exotic. I wished I had a camera, but the pictures would not describe the magic I felt.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Lightening up

I just joined a blog that seemed interesting and funny, and the new post there is called "Laugh, and the world laughs with you. Cry, and you're a f****** (didn't count the stars so it might actually be a whole different word) idiot!" Without the lengthy aside. That's mine, from the queen of lengthy asides herself.

So far, my joins have been fairly random, like my posts. SOS for Haiti, for instance. Not that I've done a single thing with it, but it salves my conscience a little. I want to find the blog that was a "noteable" a few weeks back from some unpublished lady across the world somewhere ("still" and "unpublished" were part of her blog ID), but I haven't located it again. Lost in a sea of blah blogs. Have you discovered the "next" blog tab yet, and tried it? Yeah, there are a lot out there, many in different languages.

For the blog labels -- I feel this sense of deja vu like I already posted this, but I haven't been blogging long enough to repeat myself yet, have I? -- they should be quite simple: interesting. funny. intelligent. sad. boring as hell. long-winded, rambling, confusing, etc. Yes, today my taste runs toward a boring-as-hell, long-winded post! Today and every day, you say?

Who should assign the labels, then? Someone who could be honest, which seems to rule out the blogger! But honest from whose point of view, you ask?

I ran across some blogpost central where fellow bloggers communicate, and it was rather amusing. Some bloke asked where he could find interesting and funny blogs. Guess what all the answers were? Try my blog; why don't you have a go at my blog; no, MY blog; repeated about 85 times. Well, statistically speaking, I just don't think they can ALL be that funny and interesting! But bloggers seem to have a healthy -- if not strictly reality-based -- sense of self-esteem, for whatever that is worth.

Me, I find the voice of the Parent, as Freud would perhaps call it, telling me I've been too negative in my postings here. Well, give me a break! My dog just died. But before that, the nagging voice continues. And then comes a feeling of self-doubt.

Yet here I am, wading past it to ramble on. Something important is happening here, though I couldn't tell you what! It does not matter, at this point, if a single other soul on the planet is reading this. Because it's helpful to me; and one is the critical mass, the magic number, that makes any endeavor worthwhile. The most important one to any human being is, by definition, "me." If "me" (self) is not satisfied, then the rest of the world matters not. That is a lesson to learn from the disastrous end of some celebrities' lives; of course, I'm thinking of Michael Jackson right now.

The importance of a single person, by the way, was one of the philosophical points made by my all-time favorite TV series, Star Trek: the Next Generation. Except it would be more apt to call it "life form."


Let me find the random pic of the day for this posting.

Found some life forms from Halloween a few years ago, and here they are.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sandy's death

We took Sandy to Deason's for them to put her to sleep Thursday, and it was really hard. Harder than I imagined. We are missing her. Dwaine made fajitas today and said it was too bad Sandy was not here to get some scraps, one of her favorite activities. I tell you, I've been crying, missing my dog.

She was a golden retriever mix, about 35 pounds when she was healthy. She was the best dog to have around children. She was completely gentle. I never, ever saw her snap at anyone or anything, not even Mimi (our chihuahua-terrier) at her most annoying. She was completely loyal to us.

I don't know that I grieved like this over losing Honey, our Siamese cat who was over 18 when she left. I think it's because dogs have a complete fidelity to a family, and they totally depend on people, too. You get the feeling that your pet cat could make it alone, if he had to; furthermore, he might not even miss you. He'd prefer getting his food on the dole, but if he had to, he'd revert to the wild quite easily. The same cannot be said of most dogs. The relationship with a dog is symbiotic, mutually dependent. It must be so, Even I, a cat-lover, know it.

Sandy visited Andrew in a dream. Andrew is the one in our family who is most in touch with the after-life. He has been visited by Grandma several times after she died. He said Sandy was all frisky, the way she would be when she was about to be fed. At the end of a beloved pet's life, when they have been worn down by time and aging and cannot move well, it's hard to remember how they used to love to jump and play.
Here's a picture of Andrew with Sandy in a place that holds memories of those who have gone, Zapata (where his grandparents used to live when they were alive).

We got to the vet's around 7:30 and the vet was not in yet, though the office was open. This was how Sandy was the morning we took her: She was sitting on our sidewalk near Dwaine -- no, standing, then very carefully sitting in a complicated and slow effort to not fall over. She was looking out toward the horizon, greeting the new day and the coolest time of day (below 80 degrees), very peaceful. Dwaine thought her breathing looked labored, though.

At the vet's, she did not want to move anywhere. It was just too hard. We took her over to a grassy area nearby to wait, but it was not her home, and the traffic was unbelievably loud. Her tail was down, this last week. That was the most noticeable change. She did not wag her tail anymore. I had never seen her tail hang down like that before, and it was symbolic of the change in her attitude, the decision to give up this living because it was getting too painful. She had become just skin and bones.

She did not want to go inside the vet's. It was really hard to take her to someplace she hated so much for her last moments on earth. We do that to people, too. Who loves being in a hospital? Who, having a choice, would want to die in one?

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