Friday, November 13, 2009

Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh

Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh is an exploration of Thây’s Buddhism in relationship to his encounters with Christianity, both in and beyond his home of Vietnam. For anyone who has read his writings before, this book includes many familiar concepts about Buddhism and what he shares about Christianity should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows that Thich Nhat Hanh and Thomas Meron, a Catholic monk, had a sympathetic relationship with one another. This book fell short for me because I had hoped to find more applicable ideas. This is not to say I didn’t cull a lot of quotes from the book; I did, twelve pages worth! I love what he says about how a Christian should look at how Jesus Christ lived his life rather than debate the meaning of his teachings. The emphasis is not on a relationship with God but how Jesus lived in relationship with His brethren. In an age of mega-churches and virtual relationships, this is a startling reminder about the necessity of intimacy communicated through attention. When we are present with one another, in the one moment we have, we honor the relationship in ways that elevates the superficial to the spiritual. (I confess that I do not know how to have a relationship with others when all I have is facebook status updates or flickr photos through which to know the person and I am reaching a point in my life when the superficial no longer fulfills. I must be getting old because I find it startling and even heartbreaking to see how such things are becoming the norm and are no longer the exception. But I digress.) Thây manages to maintain a balance of judgment, showing the failings of both spiritual paths. The truth is, I know much more about how Christianity has failed than I do about how Buddhism has failed. And due to recent events, I know a lot about how Hinduism and Islam have also lost the spiritual ideals from which they grew. This book suggests some of the bumps in the spiritual path of Buddhism but not so much that it becomes harsh or judgmental. This is not Thây’s way. Even his most harsh criticism of Christianity is infused with the compassion one would expect from him. I could blabber on some more, try to share some of the twelve pages of quotes or wrap my head around some of the many thoughts I have. Once again, I wish I had read this book with someone else or in a group situation where we could freely discuss the many ideas presented, debate the erroneous teachings presented (not all Christians believe the same things across the board and Thây does not attempt to address the different schools of theology because this is not his intention). In the meantime, I’ll continue reading these books and collect my quotes.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Happy Tenth Anniversary to MEEEEEEE . . . and my blog!

Today is the tenth anniversary of my blogging! On this day in 1999 I posted the following blog entry:
Hello. I know I should spend a lot of time telling you all about myself and my life but I also would like to just see how things flow for a bit so . . . instead of boring you with the story of my 37 years, I am just going to plunge in. I had a terrible day at work and am looking forward to going over to my friend's place to hang out for the evening. Both of us have had a rough day of it and need a little downtime. Isn't it nice when you are comfortable enough with someone that you don't have to pretend to be in a good mood or try to entertain. Anyway, that is how Josh and I are. Totally comfortable. I still don't know why he doesn't have a girlfriend. Meanwhile, I am hoping that Michael will call. I met Michael when he walked into my office for a tour. Very attractive so I had to take a chance. I emailed him at his job and sure enough we went out last night. Had a great time. He is not only attractive but he is also intelligent and we share many of the same interests. Treated me well and didn't even try to kiss me, although he did ask me out again for Sunday so I am feeling okay with it all. And he even knows how old I am. Twelve years older than he. Wow! At least he is not the youngest guy to ask me out or anything. :) (When I told my son how old Michael was, he immediately said, "Well that's not too young!" I have great kids! But then all moms feel that way.) Just a quick intro: I am 5'4", attractive, brown hair and eyes. My interests include reading, writing, rock climbing (haven't been in too long!), and other things which will appear eventually. I have been divorced not long enough. More about the ex as well. I was raised in NY and live in GA. My children are all teenagers. (I will probably not get too detailed about them to protect their privacy. But I will tell about them, as I obviously have done above.) I have many friends so I may start giving out names, depending on my mood. So here are my plans for the next few days: tonight I go out with Josh for pizza and ice cream and then he and I will probably hang out at his place (massage is definitely in order today). Saturday I have errands to run with the children and I plan to get some writing done. Sunday, Michael and I have plans to go to the Whole Life Expo. (Not sure which I am looking forward to more, the expo or his company. What do you think?) Then Monday, back to work which I hope will not be as hellacious as today. Currently reading: In the Meantime by Iyanla Vanzant Introduction to Buddhism by D. T. Suzuki Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe The following CDs are in my car: soundtrack to Camelot, The Matrix, Tori Amos' Little Earthquakes, and Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Live at Red Rocks. That should give everyone a taste of who I am and what I am up to (5'4", in case you forgot). Trust me, there will be more to come.
This was before a lot of things . . . before I met Rob, before I had dogs in my life, before I had vertigo. The next blog post was on the 15th and I wrote about hanging out with Josh, how Michael didn’t call (he called Saturday to confirm the plans but then didn’t call Sunday to finalize where to meet at the conference). Then on the 19th I wrote:
I swear no matter how bad life may be, there must be something good in this world if there is pizza and ice cream! And no matter how bad things get, there is always pizza and ice cream! Actually, nothing bad happened yesterday. I just REALLY like pizza and ice cream. For the record.
In the rest of the post, blabbered about some training I had to suffer through at work and how I went to a local pizza place to meet with my friends Jennifer and Erin but neither showed up. (As it turns out, Jen’s sister had a flat on the interstate but I guess Erin never told me why she was a no show because I didn’t say anything about that.) I had my notebook with me (as always) and did some writing. And obviously ate some pizza. There was, at the time, a flirtation happening between Josh and Erin and I wrote a bit about how I didn’t think they were a good fit. I can be brutally honest with myself at times:
Or maybe I would be afraid that if he were to get seriously involved he would be too busy for our friendship and then I would lose him. And let's face it; I don't have many other people in my life at the moment.
I posted again a few times, not necessarily sharing the best of myself and, frankly, coming off as desperately lonely. Not desperate for a romantic relationship—just reaching out to my friends in hopes of hanging out, distracting myself, etc. Here is what I posted on Thanksgiving of 1999:

11-25 Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!! I woke up barely in time for the parade. I probably would not have woken up in time had my son not come to fetch me. Last night was filled with dreams. I had one dream in which I was showing someone around my mother’s house. (She has a beautiful home.) I don’t know who I was showing around . . . some young guy. Nameless. I lost my shoes and was desperately trying to find my shoes because I couldn’t leave until I found them. But I couldn’t find them for the longest time. I found so many other pairs of shoes but none of them mine. (I am not a shoe person. I have a few pairs but only because of necessity. If I could go barefoot 24/7, I would.) Then there was the wet dream . . . (Obviously, TMI about to follow. Skip this paragraph if you don’t want to hear it.) *sigh* Now that was a pleasant surprise. Woohoo! Very nice. Again a nameless man. Suddenly in my bed. Naked and wanting me. And in my dream, I just mounted him and climaxed. In real life, I have only had an orgasm like that one time. I would love to experience it again and can only hope that someday soon someone will show up. The third dream I had was about my best friend. He was making a model ship. Very intricate. Actually, very odd, as you will see. He spilled the pieces on the floor and I was helping him gather up the little pieces which were scattered across the carpet. I told him about how I had always wanted my children to get into modeling but they hadn’t, not even when Craig was painting his Warhammer figures. As I was telling him about this I picked up a piece which was shaped like the lungs and heart of a human being. I passed them to my friend and was pierced by a small, sharp edge. I even said, "Be careful because the heart piece just pierced me." Argh! That hardly even needs an interpretation, does it? Enough of dreams from last night. The children and I watched the Thanksgiving Day parade. It was pretty dull, actually. There have been more than a few dull parades, come to think of it. I can’t remember when the last good parade was but the last few years have been real duds. This watching of the parade is the first of our holiday traditions. Now we go into a series of things which have been a part of our family for so long, it is wonderful. There is dinner to be cooked. Turkey, stuffing, gravy, veggies, rolls, and pie . . . yummm. (I was worried about putting on weight today but nothing to fear . . . I woke up with diarrhea and have been feeling ill all day long as a result.) We will put up the tree tonight while watching holiday shows. I bought two new xmas CDs last night. I buy a new one every year. We are up to 17. (I suspect that one is missing because I could have sworn we had the Jackson 5 xmas CD as well.) We have everything from religious masses to popular to How the Grinch Stole Christmas. From here on in this is all I will listen to until 25 Dec. It doesn’t stop there. I am slowly painting my nails. Layers and layers of polish. First the base. Then the binder. Then a layer of white. Then another layer of binder. Then another layer of white. Then a layer of red and green confetti polish. Then another layer of red and green confetti. Then a layer of clear. A second if necessary because it holds the confetti polish in place. So my nails will be all red, white and green. Then the socks . . . I have about 13 pairs of xmas socks, all of them with bells on them. In fact, I am hoping that my nails will be long enough by the week before xmas so I can get a bell attached to my nails. That would be great. A bell on my thumbnail, maybe. We will see.

So I go all out for xmas. All out! I would begin my shopping early in the year but it is impossible to shop for the children as their tastes change all the time. My list for what I want is brief. I want a book, a software program, and a CD. My Dave Matthews CD collection is almost complete so that is what I want most. There is a book on rock climbing I am going to grab. (Can’t tell my mother about that as she finds it horrifying that I do this sort of thing. I guess telling her about the climbing shoes which are designed for indoor/gym climbing is a bad idea. *smirk*) The children are all listed up so I know what am going to buy for them. And then I know what I am getting for the few friends I get gifts for. I usually don’t buy gifts for friends but a few have bought for me in the past. So the best friend gets a gift. I am going to buy him a pair of champagne glasses and give him the books I bought for Craig. (The best friend gave me a gift he had bought for his ex-wife last year so . . . it seems fitting.) What to get Josh is a major prob. I can think of things I can’t afford, easily enough. I would like to get him something special but I just can’t think of a thing. And at work I will probably have to join a gift pool where I will pull a person’s name out of a hat sort of thing. Naturally, there are a few people at work I could easily shop for and others I would have trouble finding thing one for. How much you wanna bet I get someone who leaves me blank in knowing what to get? Anyway, it is time to do a little spring cleaning. I am tossing all of Craig’s stuff out as I come across it. I will have a hard time tossing his parents’ letters to him from Australia but I can’t hold onto these things. I will keep the cards and letters we exchanged but put them in a box so I won’t have to see them. It has been a year and if he wanted these things he would have arranged to have them a long time ago. I have no reason or desire to hold onto them. I only held on this long because I kept thinking what I would want someone I knew to do with my things. Now I realize that I wouldn’t have let them stay with that person for so very long. (In fact, I am hoping that Jason S. will be at the New Year’s Eve party because I want my copy of The Little Prince back!) I would have gotten them back a long time ago. So it is time for me to just toss them and feel no guilt for doing it!

On the 27th, I wrote about divesting myself of the last of Craig’s possessions which were still cluttering my life even though he had ended the relationship a year earlier. I was trying to give him time to arrange to have me ship them to him. He never did so I just started throwing them away. Then, out of nowhere my ex-husband called. Unexpectedly. He called to tell me he had a job, that he would start sending me child support. I wrote about our relationship, two pages spanning nearly fifteen years of chaos. I concluded it all with: So the past 12 months have been the worst for me . . . but I have to believe that even this hell is better than the hell I lived in when I was married. Which is probably why I called all of my friends saying, “I need to hang out” because I was having a lot of emotional negative stuff in my head what with Craig and Jerome throughout the post. But none of my friends called. Not that I had a lot of friends at the time. (Aside, I rarely have a lot of friends. If I allow someone to stay in my life for more than a brief time, I prefer the relationship to go deeper. I could have a lot of superficial acquaintances or get to know someone on a more relevant level. At least, that is what I hope for anyway. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. But this is why I prefer to have a few deep friendships than a lot of shallow associations.) On the 29th I wrote about a party I had gone to, an attempt at distracting myself. Also, a mistake because apparently someone got into my purse and stole six checks out of my checkbook. Lovely. I wrote:
But does anyone else see the irony of my going to this party, vulnerable and desperate to just escape the pain I was feeling from the weekend . . . and having checks stolen. The one thing I do to try to just feel good about things, or at least escape not feeling good for a while . . . and I get robbed.
The truth is, I still try to distract myself from pain, avoid my anxieties and fears, even though I know I shouldn’t. I could write more (and if you really want to know more about anything, you are welcome to ask me anything, an offer I made in my original blog way back when). I shared some of the poems I planned to share at a reading. I hesitate to even re-read them now because I would probably hate them but maybe this weekend I’ll skim them over, see if there is a pearl of imagery, a line that sings, something that can be salvaged from my earlier attempts at being a poet. And the final post of November 1999 . . .

11-30 Ahhhh . . . Tuesdays! Well the 22 yr old called yesterday to ask me out for Wed but I am going to a poetry reading and I can't see him or anyone else for that matter. Funny story . . . my children pointed out to me that when I first start dating someone, they always have a title. Rob, the tattoo guy. (EDIT: Not Rob, my now fiancé but another Rob.) So-and-so, the rock-climber. They all have some additional info. But my children have observed that when I start getting serious about a relationship, I will drop the title and just call the guy by name. Rather a curious observation but accurate. Hence,the 22 yr old will remain such until I actually take him seriously. Assuming that ever happens.

So what to do . . . ? It is tempting. I won't deny that. Why wouldn't it be? Flattering? No more so than most of the other guys that age who come onto me. But I know this is bad news and there are guidelines I would want to establish from the start which would make the relationship cumbersome for us both. And aren't relationships difficult enough w/o there being anything encumbering them? My friends say I need to buy a vibrator so I won't be tempted!!! They may be right. But I don't have the money right now to do it, what with the holidays and all. Erin called last night just to talk. I know that she is seeking some real connection with me but I don't know that I have the patience to work through her walls. On the other hand, I don't exactly have friends lining up to be in my life at the moment. And perhaps there is something I am meant to learn in this relationship. Who knows? But then couldn't one use that as a justification for all relationships? Should that be what motivates one into intimacy? I dunno. Okay. I found this quote in A Course in Miracles and thought it was pretty neat so I am sharing it with all of you. You have no idea of the tremendous release and deep peace that comes from meeting yourself and your brothers totally without judgment. When you recognize what you are and what your bothers are, you will realize that judging them in any way is without meaning is lost to you precisely because you are judging them. (3.vi.3) I'll be posting my comments to the reader's guide questions for The Reader by Bernhard Schlink sometime today or tomorrow since someone wanted to hear more about my reading and such. Yesterday I sent out a certified, return receipt letter to the NYC Dept of Health because I am trying to get my daughter's birth certificate. I have to replace the children's social security cards. Then, I can finally sue the ex for non-payment of child support. Supposedly, I will hear from him before Wed about some job interview thing. I don't hold my breath. I certainly hope that things will change . . . that he will pay child support . . . that our finances will reach a point where I can afford things like an allowance for my children (and a vibrator *smirk*). On that rather dubious note, I am out of here! Talk to you later or tomorrow!

For the record, I didn’t get a vibrator until March or April of the following year, the 22 year old wanted me to be his codependent conscience, a Jiminy Cricket who would smack him back in shape, Erin and I never became good friends because, as I astutely observed, I didn’t have the patience to work through her walls, and I never received any child support from my ex, even after dragging him back to court for non-payment. But I blabber about that in later posts in the blog that started out as a joke, a response to a dare from Josh who said my life was interesting enough that people would actually want to read about me and mine. I thought he was nuts and said, “Fine. I’ll set up an online journal and if I have even 10 readers by the end of the year, I’ll keep it going.” I had nearly 20 by the end of December. Go figure. And now, ten years later, here we are. Anyway, if you’ve read all of this . . . whew . . . give yourself a pat on the back. In the meantime, I probably should start thinking of some more content with which to fill my blog, content that isn’t just another book review. PS: I will meet Rob in May of 2000 and called him BB, which stood for Backstreet Boy because I met him at a club called Backstreet. This still makes me chuckle to think of.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Beg, Borrow, Steal by Michael Greenberg

Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life by Michael Greenberg is a follow-up memoir to his previously published Hurry Down Sunshine (reviewed here). Obviously, there are some familiar people in this memoir—wife, ex-wife, children. However, the organization and tone of this book are very different.
This collection of short essays works like snapshots of Greenberg’s life, moving to and fro, back and forth, from his childhood to his publishing success, or lack thereof. Reading about Greenberg’s writing experience is very much like traveling through a maze, vicariously hitting the dead-end opportunities that Greenberg faced in varying writing roles—screenplay writer, ghost writer, etc.
The lack of cohesion that this book has, especially when compared with the former, doesn’t work for me. I’ve read memoirs that offer quick snippets of experiences and it takes a lot to make it work. This book didn’t work for me. I could argue that I expected more emphasis on his experiences as a writer, more stories about his process and how he grew into himself as a writer. If you are hoping to get a behind-the-scenes sense of how Greenberg writes you won’t find it here. The most powerful section of this book doesn’t occur until the very end where Greenberg finally looks more closely at the implications of writing memoir, the impact it can and will have on those who read it, especially those about whom one is writing.
This is the point of the title, after all, because most writers do all three things to find a good story: beg, borrow, steal. From family. From friends. It doesn’t matter. This is the brutal reality of what it means to be a writer or in relationship with a writer—anything and everything is up for grabs. Perhaps the chapters that precede the titular one are meant to reinforce the implication; after reading about his grandparents, parents, siblings, friends, et al, the reader is supposed to realize how invasive a memoirist’s works can seem to those closest to the content. But this theme, such as it is, is not woven throughout the text; that is where this memoir falls short for me. Had the idea been explored throughout the text in some manner or other, I’d likely have loved this book as much as I did his previously published memoir. Maybe someday he will take the time to write more deeply about the ethical and moral implications of writing memoir, the repercussions and the blessings reaped in exposing your life, and lives of others, to strangers.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Drum Roll Still Rolling Along

A couple of days ago I started the drum roll,
promising something special coming. Well, it’s still coming.
Thursday is the big day.
In the meantime, I hope you are eager to find out
what all the build up is building up to.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Making Mischief by Gregory Maguire

Making Mischief: A Maurice Sendak Appreciation by Gregory Maguire is a collection with surprising layers, offering not only an homage to Sendak’s works but dipping into the history of his inspirations. It is easy to forget that artists and illustrators learn from one another, much as writers attribute their skills to the inspiration of previously published authors and musical artists often drop the names of bands, musicians, and singers as being the muse that moved an innate talent. But ultimately this is Maguire’s perspective of Sendak’s oeuvre. He doesn’t offer quotations from Sendak to reinforce the contentions of what is a source of inspiration. Rather, the author draws his own conclusions (no pun intended) and invites the reader to agree or disagree. And it is interesting to see how Sendak may have been influenced by the works of William Blake or Winslow Homer although not as intriguing as following the repeated visual themes drawn from Sendak’s own history. And because of the narrow focus, the book serves mostly as an excuse. An excuse for the publisher to milk more money from Maguire’s fans, to dovetail on the anticipated (and probably now disappointed) enthusiasm to follow the release of Where the Wild Things Are, and, when there are other more thorough collections of Sendak’s illustrations, the limitations of the content are very quickly apparent. I guess, in the end, this book is for die hard fans either of Maurice Sendak and/or Gregory Maguire. Or maybe there are some artists out there who enjoy exploring how one artist informs another, the way that I enjoy reading how writers are inspired by one another. It’s an interesting book, with an even more interesting idea behind it, that doesn’t live up to its potential.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Drum Roll Please

On 22 November 1999, Greg Knauss posted an article about blogging, the latest fad that was, apparently, doomed to fizzle out.
But how can you not boggle at the level of self-delusion, of self-infatuation, it takes to declare that weblogs are going kill off traditional journalism? That the concept will be alive and well a decade from now?
In light of this curious artifact . . . erm, article, I am announcing that on the 12th I will be making an announcement. It's a byob invitation. And what happens in the blog stays on the internet for the entire world to see. This isn't Vegas, baby!