Friday, April 30, 2010


Literally just force saved the final entry for the month and earned my albatross! I’m rather psyched.
Final entry was over 1350 words long, but I had a lot going on in my head. It felt good to close out the month with a nice long brain purge, since without the pressure of the challenge being on me I won’t probably remember to do it constantly every single day. Which is too bad, because I love my albatross and want him to continue to fly!
I really enjoyed this, not just because I got to vent my brain for 30 days straight and see the benefits, but also because it showed me that if there was any sort of external challenge, I rose to meet it. I now realize that I need to balance this and make my own personal internal challenges as important. Going forward I’m going to try to set one thing a month to do for myself, and reap the benefits from seeing it to fruition whatever it may be.
It’s like meta-data I didn’t even know was there, and that I can use to make into a fun little mini-game!
My next thing I’m going to try is to write one short story a day in the month of may. Can be anywhere from 5 words to several pages. But that’s for another entry.
I’m really happy for having accomplished this, for the insights it’s given me, and for the plans I have going forward.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

15 Incredibly Creative Papercraft Artists | Design Ideas on WU

I am a great admirer of people who can take common objects and do extraordinary things with them. Making amazing works of art from mere sheets of paper fits in that category. Please enjoy.

15 Incredibly Creative Papercraft Artists | Design Ideas on WU

Posted using ShareThis

Friday, April 23, 2010

Toycamera dreams

I’ve decided I do a decent job wielding my mighty Holga (and my iKimono, and my Fuji Instax, and my Diana F+) so I’m going to show that confidence by entering a few photo competitions this spring and summer. There’s a chance to win a truly nifty camera from Superheads, a bright pink Kamen Rider edition Blackbird Fly (I won’t pretend I don’t want a TLR that sexy).
I’ve already chosen the 6 images I want to send and bumped them down to 500 pixels. The next trick is to make sure that I submit them correctly so I don’t disqualify myself. I might have done that accidentally last year. :(
While I don’t know that the images are good enough to actually win the competition, I’d like the chance to have my work showcased somewhere and get feedback on it, and that’s what this will allow me to do. Can’t complain about that. :D

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Dukkha strikes again.

Every time I see that word I want to make a Sith joke, but somehow I think most people who read this wouldn't get it. Did you know that the idea of the Jedi was losely based on Buddhism and Eastern principles? Random tidbits of info are one of the many services I offer on this blog.
Oh noes! Dukkha! Something in my life has me dissatisfied and/or suffering and uneasy! Just like EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE ELSE ON THE PLANET. Even the mountain worries that it might be worn down by the rain, though it rises up proudly to the clouds. But me? I've decided to feel dissatisfied about something that is really ridiculous.
I am feeling homesick for Japan.
Not only is this ridiculous, as it is not my native culture and I was only there for perhaps two weeks, but it is also petty. I am not uneasy about losing where we live or not being able to eat the next day. I'm upset because I can't travel somewhere on the other side of the world that previously took 3 years of planning and saving to go to.
If I had to guess, it's because this time last year we were in the midst of making final preparations. We spent so long focusing on it that the absence of it makes my mind search out for something regarding it. In this case, reminding me of the beauty of Okinawa, the friendliness of the folks in Kyoto, the smiles from the girls at Rera Cise. I have been thinking more and more about how much I would like to experience it again, and add new experiences to it. Bob has also said he would love to go back, though perhaps it is something to be planned for on a 5th anniversary or something.
I have gone about trying to handle it in all the wrong ways. I made meals of Japanese food hoping that might assuage it, but to no avail. It made me think of the places we stopped in Shinjuku. I tried to read articles and look up pictures, but all it did was remind me of all the things that we haven't gotten to do yet. By catering to the craving and dissatisfaction I was aiding the dukkha in its job to make me feel unhappy with my life as it is.
I remember reading a story a man told about camping. He often became horribly homesick for the northern woods, and when he heard certain bird calls it made him think of it. One evening when he was camped in the middle of the northern woods, though, he heard the lonely, low call of a loon out on the lake. The sound made him homesick once more, even though he was literally in the middle of that place for which he was homesick. This is the strength that dukkha can have over you, that in the middle of having what you want you will still want more. I know that even if we were standing in Tokyo right now, I would at some point, perhaps in the middle of the night, wake up and wish I were in Japan. Only to remember I am literally sleeping upon its earth.
It is something interesting to note, and to acknowledge, but were I to beat myself up for every time I craved something or longed for something not only would I be bruised and bloodied, I would be punishing myself for being human. But isn't it funny how such strange things can arise from the mind and take on an almost tangible quality in our lives? The mind has amazing power over the physical and emotional states of the body; One must be aware of it, but also be willing to be gentle when it occurs. It took the Buddha at least 5 years of solid meditation to achieve enlightenment, and this without the concerns of families or paying bills or going to work. For the rest of us, it is quite alright that it might take a bit longer.


The definition of zakka most often touted is this:
“Everything and anything that improves your home, life and outlook. It is often based on household items from the West that are regarded as kitsch in their countries of origin, but can also be Japanese goods…The interest in Nordic design or Scandinavian design, both contemporary and past, is also part of this zakka movement. Zakka can also be contemporary handicraft.
Zakka has also been described as “the art of seeing the savvy in the ordinary and mundane”.

I was first introduced to the idea when it refered to creating tawashis, small scrubby items for the household made of acrylic yarn that are really popular in Japan. From there I discovered that there is a huge movement in japan to create things for the home that are simple, brightly colored, very decorative and perhaps best of all, reusable. There is no need for a scrubbing sponge that gets replaced every week or 2 if you have a cotton or acrylic pot scrubber that can be thrown in the wash, then air-dried. You save resources and money, and you can inject your own personal style in to things by crocheting, sewing or knitting your own items. Want a sunflower dishtowel? Why pay somebody $7 when you can use yarn you might already have on hand and make something that won’t fade, fray, or develop holes?
I liked this idea, and the idea of making other small items around the house that are simple, beautiful, and keep the amount of waste down. I’m trying my best to minimize my impact on the planet and have an enormous stash of yarn, so I thought I would start doing this and see how well my handi-crafts hold up. I’ve also decided to try and pass the idea along by crocheting handicrafts for donation that will include the description on the label for others to read when they receive them. I feel it goes along with the idea of trying to be more mindful in your everyday life, not just for the purpose of Buddhist thought, but also environmentally and psychologically. It’s always funny how these things tie in together.

Friday, April 16, 2010

How to yarnbomb more.

"Giving pause to normal people one creation at a time."

How I did it: I'd actually done some yarnbombing about a year ago, decorating a stop sign near my place. Nobody's taken it down yet and it still sits there, fibers tightened from the weather. It's faded in the sunshine, but amazingly it's still a bit fuzzy. Such is the power of mohair.
That project left me with 2/3rds of the rest of the skein, though, so I went ahead and just starting a circular scarf on one of my knitting looms. It sat in the bottom of my project bin for the better part of a year until I found it Wednesday and got fed up with it not being finished! I worked on it all Wednesday night and Thursday morning until it was finished. Then when it was getting dark my hsuband and I took the dog for a walk out on a local golf course. I hastily sewed the work on to a willow branch so it looked like a scarf hanging down, took a picture, then hurried home. It was a LOT of fun.

Lessons & tips: ~If you want the project to last a while, use very sturdy fibers. Acrylics like Red Heart are nearly bomb proof and don't weather. They ~can~ stretch though, so be careful when bombing that you haven't made a piece too big for your target. If you have... oh well, improvise!

~Make sure you install your piece somewhere that can be seen by a lot of people. Just putting it in the middle of nowhere might be safe and keep you from getting yelled at, but the point of yarnbombing and guerilla art is to cause the person to pause in the middle of their day and have that "....wha...??" moment. Make sure it gets seen!

~Conversely, if you pick a high traffic area, try to do it when there will be LESS traffic. Some people will just leave you alone because you look like you're doing something weird, but others might feel they have to say something because to them you aren't producing art, it's graffiti. By doing it when there's not a lot of traffic in the area, you're less likely to run in to that type of individual.

~If you DO run in to that type of individual and haven't gotten your piece up yet, you may need to retreat and just wait until another time.

~Remember that guerilla art and yarnbombing is a temporary installation. People might love it enough to come by and steal it! (Go you!) Or they might hate it and rip it down. Accept the loss and plan your next installation. If you can make it grander and showier than the last, so much the better!

Resources: .

It took me 2 days.

It made me super happy

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Because of my love of irony, I am now going to just dip briefly in to a concept I came across courtesy of Pema Chodron's website, where she teaches about many things.
I make no excuse, as it isn't hero worship. She simply makes sense for now, and when it no longer makes sense I will move on. But for now, the most beautiful thing has happened... I have become an example of my own words. Or rather, I have had to go back over something that I seemed to exort definitively and tweak it humbly under the eyes of the universe to say "well, and this too..." which I find funny. Really I just wait for it these days.
So... shenpa. As best described, it is a "hook". It gets in there, twists around, and eventually you realize that your normally peaceful demeanor was shattered by the mere utterance of a single phrase, a single look, or a single event. Things spiral from there and now the world is a giant negative lump and you're struggling for your peace and ahimsa to go back in to place. VERY hard to do when you just want to punch people out.
Now, I will readily cop to the fact that I learned of shenpa from the book-worshipers who declared everything could be solved by reading Pema Chodron's work. As such, I took it with a grain of salt and read what I could just to get an understanding of what it was about. I went no further, as I wanted to search out for myself where it would be in my life and what triggered it. I also wanted to search out what disarmed the "hook" on my own. So my understanding is incomplete and I embrace this.
For me, things can snowball very, very quickly. All it takes is someone implying that I have not done my job OR that they think I am dumber than them in some capacity, and I explode. Lesser instances are where I am yelled at without explanation or means to redress what led to the yelling, and also just plain being stonewalled. If you yell at me that I was too stupid to finish a job, then won't tell me how to fix it or LET me fix it.... ooo... grounds for a nuclear blast of my wrath. And in hindsight its all very ridiculous. After all, it's pretty common for most people to think they're smarter than others whether they are or not because they lack the ability to view others with perspective - just because you can do everything in your life well doesn't mean you could handle everything in another's life well. It isn't stupidity so much as a lack of information and there is a HUGE difference between actually being unable to comprehend something versus never being given the opportunity to learn it.
This is actually why I don't talk with human beings online often unless I've known them in person first. This major source of shenpa comes up for me so often online with individuals who simply declare others to "be an idiot" that I have actively avoided messaging boards. I even avoid blogging in places where people could read what I say and declare it to be stupid for this very reason. Which, really, is simply hiding from the cause of the problem and not fixing it. I know the fury with which I explode when confronted with certain things, and avoidance seemed to be most healthy for myself. It isn't a long term solution, though. Ideally I will eventually figure out how to get around the anger that comes with being told I'm an idiot and blow it off. That day will not be today, however.
Over the course of the last several weeks I have been miserable in my current class. The teacher proved to be terrible and was not actually teaching. She kept redirecting students to the reading, which is not what a teacher does. She was so set on making us learn for ourselves that we couldn't even talk about problems we were having; if it did occur, she threatened us with discipline. In the end, the entire class dropped some $1200 to read the dross she fed us that DIDN'T explain what she wanted clearly, then proceed to go out and get our own resources so we COULD learn and pass the class. She was vague, she failed everyone on a homework assignment that she didn't actually assign us and generally displayed all the habits of a schizophrenic... I'm being overly harsh because my $1200 in government loan money that I'll be paying interest on is included with the group. But as I pointed out in the complaint I ended up filing against the professor, had a student acted this way they would've been dropped from the class.
The actions of this teacher really got to me. Because of her and my fixation on it I had a very negative mindset when working with my teammates and concerning anything else that just added to my irritation. It snowballed to the point that I blew up at my team over what I originally thought was a request to double-check my work because they didn't think I would do it as well as they had. I was incorrect. In fact, I received a phone call to outline this detail so that I would understand where they were really coming from, and they gave several compliments regarding my work. But I was so caught up in the frustration and negativity that I could actually no longer perceive what was going on. That's some pretty big shenpa.
I don't know how to talk myself out of being this way, and I know that up until I logged in to class this morning and discovered the teacher had been magically relieved of her duties and another put in her place that I was on the warpath. At that point I felt as if a huge weight had come off me and I could move forward. There was still uncertainty about what was going to happen, and if I was going to pass, but the main cause of the problem seemed to be gone. However, what if that hadn't happened? I would still be caught in the middle of the misery I had generated. And I have no idea how I would've gotten out. I would've harbored a grudge for a long time about it, as well, occasionally getting mad about it at random points in the future because I had to deal with it (I know myself well.)
Upon realizing how artificial the resolution was that had come from the professor's "retirement", I realized I couldn't continue like this. I let the negativity get in too far and hook in too deep. I let them twist inside and focus on things that are cranky and angsty. Even now I know it won't take much for them to get inside and tear up my serenity.
From this I have decided to take a phrase that struck me very deeply the other day. A documentary on the Buddha had many poets and saints and monks espousing the beliefs of the Buddha, talking about his journey and what it meant for humanity after he'd gone on it. At one point an American Roshi talked about a famous parable where one might admire a beautifully cut crystal glass. It holds the liquid well, reflects well in the light, he said. But by admiring that there was the fear of breaking it, either by dropping it or knocking it off the shelf. So even as you enjoyed it, there was the fear of it being gone from your life and this colored one's perceptions.
What he said next was like a stone thrown through a window (to go with the breaking glass theme we have going) complete with the jarring noise and the bouncing of shards off the earth. The glass, he said, was already broken. By knowing this, knowing that it was both whole and destroyed at the same time, you freed yourself from the fear of worrying about it happening. You could also fully appreciate the beauty of what you were seeing in front of you.
My loved ones are already dead, I have already failed every class. My life has ended, and I was never born. With these things in my mind, if I can hold them there, nothing touches me. It has already happened and I am simply seeing it once more. It even goes beyond accepting that everyone and everything is a part of me, it touches on the knowing of the inevitable that happens in every life everywhere. It is accepting the sheer normalcy that is even found in death and smiling when something bad arrives. This, it seems to me, is the only weapon against shenpa. In fact, there is no weapon to be had against it, because the hooks do not exist. Everything simply is. That is the truth to hold on to when suffering arises.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

"I find your lack of faith disturbing." - pt. 3

We've gone to all the trouble to outline the precepts and the Four Noble Truths. We're pretty solid on what they mean to today's practitioners and what Buddha meant when he said them. Why?
Because I'm about to go on a rant.
The biggest thing about Buddhism was that Buddha wanted us to step back from our lives and take stock, actively viewing what we do and why we do it. He wanted us to see how we go through the motions constantly and don't really see the world around us. He wanted us to be free of preconceived ideas about how we were supposed to act, stand, dress, be, NOT be.... he wanted us to be free, period.
And slavishly following the precepts is not about that.
It's the same idea that reading any other historical or religious work over and over again will give you grace or allow you in to heaven. The most you can hope for out of it is an insight about what you are reading or following. And if you have had an insight, that insight came from the distracted mind with its preconceived notions on what it understands. It is a "mind object". So the most profound thing discovered is nothing more than a distraction. You would want to toss it aside anyway.
That is not to say that the precepts don't have their place. I prefer their slimmed down cousins, The Noble Eightfold Path:
Wisdom (Sanskrit: prajñā, Pāli: paññā)
1. Right view
2. Right intention
Ethical conduct (Sanskrit: śīla, Pāli: sīla)
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
Concentration (Sanskrit and Pāli: samādhi)
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration

from all of these will eventually come (under Wisdom, or prajna)
9. Right knowledge
10. Right liberation

But it is all basically the same. Be mindful of your actions. Be careful in your thoughts. Be compassionate with both as well, and don't seek to distract yourself or delude yourself with worldly shiny things or temporary pleasures. As they say in a rather famous movie "They're more guidelines, really."

I don't want to dump on people who cite these as a major formative thing in their lives. It is always good to have the structure, especially in a society where Eastern thought and Buddhist teachings aren't native. But when they are embraced as the way to enlightenment, you have run in to a major problem.

It isn't just these. Any literature often cited and slavishly read and followed without questioning, evaluating, re-evaluating, runs in to this potential problem. I've come to think of it as the "Cult of Literature".
I have been striving for a long time to find a sangha somewhere that I can call home. I realize the irony of desiring a sangha, don't think that is lost on me. But anyone who adheres to a philosophy or religion needs community. Our very nature as social animals calls for it, in fact.
The problem comes in when the community itself is full of people worshipping certain teachings of certain people. I use worship here in terms of hero worship, to clarify.
So many online communities constantly cite Thich Nhat Hanh or Pema Chodron as great teachers, and the way to help understand what is going on. Yes, they do have wonderful insights as to what might be going on mentally or physically for a practitioner, but it isn't a bible for what to do.
Let me be most earnest with people and say that I do not do dogma. I do not do religious texts, and I do not do "follow this because it's a good idea". I never have been, and it's probably why I butted heads with the ministers of my congregations many times growing up. It's why I'm not a Christian now. I dislike the idea that there is one perfect answer for everything, irregardless of the situation, the people involved, or the odd facts of what happened. To have a fixed response is to deny the dynamic nature of mankind, culture, nature, and time itself. Physics will not argue with me on this, as they have several lovely things that cover this. My favorite, because it is a mouthful, is the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. We cannot know all things at all times about a single even or object. If science can't do it, then the far less specific practice of religion will not be able to either. Another name for it is the "Observer Effect", in which the nature of what is being observed is changed by the presence of the observer. This can be taken figuratively or literally, in that an individual viewing a system will automatically change mentally what is being seen to conform with their understanding of it. Literally it can mean that the individuals specific gravity, their position, the instruments they are using to observe, can all cause tiny changes in the behavior of whatever is being watched, so there will always be an air of uncertainty about what is being watched. We will never know how the thing really interacts with the universe because, by coming in contact with it, we change it.
Putting the physics away, this brings us to the people who read, reread, recommend and buy the calendars and bumper stickers for the very popular authors of the day. Why? Because they have the answers, and if you read enough of "When Things Fall Down" (disclaimer- I own this book and respect Pema Chodron for her work immensely, just not her fanbois and fangrrls) you will find that magical mental key that unlocks whatever has been blocking you from enlightenment and you'll be shown the way.

Each time I have ventured out trying to find a group to practice with, I've encountered the quoting and recommending of these books over and over again. It is the recommending I do not mind, it is the mentality behind the recommending that I do; "Here, if you read this you won't be lost anymore, this has answers!"
Except, that in so doing you have already failed once more. Because nothing outside of you has answers. Nothing outside of you can, because nothing outside of you exists. It's all a construct of your mind, and since you yourself do not exist, how can this book that you are holding have the answers? The book is static. Unevaluated, taken at face value, it does not allow you to discern how it fits in to your daily life. Taken as a means of practicing without introspection, it simply becomes more dogma to follow.
There are many who have probably gotten great solace out of the teachings in these books when followed in such a way. There are fantastic ideas in the books as well, and I do recommend several myself based on what a person appears to need to hear - but you see, even in that action I am presupposing who they are and what they need. They will not take away from those books what I mean them to. It's a tricky thing, a slippery slope. It is why I do not generally read treatises on Buddhism or popular authors.

I took to Zen Buddhism because they didn't appear to follow a set of doctrines mindlessly. They had a very practical view of the world; that is, that life will go on whether you're attempting to be enlightened or not, so you might as well make the two work together. Mindful cooking, mindful weeding, mindful washing dishes... these on a counterpoint with mindful walking and mindful breathing during zazen are simple. It's really hard to have a cult following about mindfully cleaning eggs off a breakfast pan. It's so ordinary. This is why I like it. There is no room for losing one's self in books or rules. If you aren't breathing, if you aren't in the moment, you pick yourself up and try again. And again. And again. No eightfold path, no precepts. Just the constant check of "do I recall the last time I consciously took a breath"? If not... well, try again.
Practical to the point of bare necessity. If it were huggable, I would.

I worry that in American where we are so tied up in 12 step plans and self help books and commandments and strict diets that guarantee us results, the true teachings of enlightenment get lost in our attempt to translate them, make them "meaningful". I've heard the rants about how it has become commercialized, but you cannot say this isn't true of any religion these days and therefor it's a moot point.

Here's the thing. Buddhism does not need Westernizing, or translating, or updating. That is because the main teaching remains strong no matter what words or mantras or practices are thrown at it: We are born enlightened. That means every dog, plant, housewife, government official and pro wrestler is a Buddha and has the chance to attain enlightenment. You cannot update something that is imminent, because it is already changing with the moment. The second you set anything to paper you have created a static thought that will struggle with the reader to be understood in the proper context. The best you can hope for is someone with the foresight to create a living document like the Shobogenzo that can roll with the times and be interpreted by each successive person that reads it as best they need in that moment.
What Buddhists are seeking is already there, and echoes back to something I had learned and recited many moons ago, when I was first breaking away from Christianity and trying out other religions - "That if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, then thou wilt never find it without thee. For behold, [it] has been with thee from the beginning; and [it] is that which is attained at the end of desire."
Eerily true, and coming from paganism, no less. It seems to speak to the kind of universal truth that the golden rule stems from; you have to have it in you already to make an action of it outside of yourself. End of story.

So when I joke and say that I am a bad Buddhist in these pages, it hearkens back to the fact that I do not follow the precepts. I swear, I drink, I dance, and I do lie or say nasty things about people at times. I try not to, and I try to forgive myself for it when it happens. I also try to remember to practice zazen every day, and not beat myself up when I go a week without remembering. The important thing to remember is that zazen is just a tool, the way that the precepts are a tool and the way that popular authors' works are just a tool, to trigger your mind in to realizing it's own Buddha-hood. That is all they are. It's not a blueprint that guarantees these things at the end of life, or a way to prove you are doing something correctly.

When I see some of these online groups, I am irritated. I try not to be. After all, I have been in that place of needing answers and not having any, and I certainly can't judge. I don't know why they need the info or why they've come to that place at that time. They are a part of me, a part that I can have compassion and empathy for but that in the end is unknowable. It is a struggle not to say "just breathe" and decry the adherence to books and authors and teachings and websites.
If I did, I would be giving in to dukkha... I would have an expectation of being right, the need to be going on the right path, and the need for them to hear and understand what I am saying the way the words have meaning to me. All of these would be incorrect and insulting to who they are and where they've come from.

Instead, I keep my mouth shut. I observe for a bit. And if it looks like I won't be able to get the kind of dialogue out of the group that I am searching for, I move on. Sometimes I leave a parting shot for someone to think about, in a moment of what's best described as sheer arrogance; my thought being to open up their perceptions a bit by offering a different take on what's going on. But most will only see what they want, be confused by anything else, and discard it if it's too confusing. I've been there, so I know this will occur.

In the end I suppose I laugh about being a "bad" buddhist, and I am smug about my distrust of books as anything more than something to think about while doing my own thing. There are other ways to end up on and travel the path that are not mine. But I cannot see how living for the writings of certain authors will serve as anything but a distraction from delving in to one's true nature in the end.
Perhaps I'll receive an insight on this while I'm forgetting to practice zazen again.
Thus ends Part Three. Not what I intended to do with my Saturday morning, but here you have it. My beliefs spread out like butter on a bagel, which I am loathe to do for fear of misunderstanding and misinterpretation, or even worse possibly offending someone. (But the imagery of which has now made me hungry.)
As with all things, I leave you with a grain of salt, should you need it. These are only my words and my experiences. :)

"I find your lack of faith disturbing." - pt. 2

Let us continue -
So do I completely deny the need for the precepts? Nope, not at all. I deny the need to blindly follow them. Let's take a look at them again:

~I will abstain from being harmful to living things.
This is an interesting one. Some traditions believe that we are reincarnated over and over again until we reach enlightenment, and therefore by eating or striking or killing another living thing, you might be hurting soemthing that was human in another life.
Another take on this, and one that fits a bit more in my own cosmology, is that since we do not exist as a "self", we are part of everything. In killing another thing needlessly, in hurting someones else, you are doing damage to the greater body of your being. Modern physics bares out that molecules have been recycled so many times, that each of us contains part of something that belonged to something else at some point. Part of us was a fern, or a T-Rex, or the great Devonian oceans crawling with trilobites. We have been all of these things on a molecular level. In damaging what you see in front of you in the here and now, you're not only damaging the greater self, but you are damaging something that will become something else later on. The ants you step on today might become part of the roses you give to your girlfriend, or later on part of the stones of your house, or the mountain pushing up from the seabed today. Everything is connected whether we want it to be or not because we live in a closed system. There is no physical way out of this.
A third take on this, and one that is more new age-y, is that if we create suffering, we will consume suffering. This diminishes our quality of life. If you eat beef from a cow that stood in shit its entire life and never saw natural grasslands or got to lie down, then died in terror, that is recorded in the beef steak you chow down on at Outback. I also hold with this one.

Since I have been striving to not do harm to others, I have found that my compassion has surged. I feel bad for cutting earthworms in half with my spade, so now I dig holes for plants with my fingers if I can. The worms get to dig through and aerate the soil for my plants without pain that way, we are both served in the exchange. By not eating beef from a stockyard I know that something didn't suffer to sustain me, and I feel more peaceful knowing that the resources were not spent to sustain that suffering. In general, it's led to a more peaceful and happier me, which will give me time to be less distracted by things that agitate me. This is all good.

~I will abstain from stealing.
So why bother with this one? A few thoughts on this as well.
Even with the Golden Rule aside, there are a few things that must be going on before you steal. You have to be in a mentalilty of "lack", which usually leads to some horrible scrabbly feelings that most people don't like. You don't have something. You want something. Someone else has it. So you take it.
Except that in so doing, you have fallen immediately in to dukkha, or attachment and suffering. You want, and you have already failed. Because it isn't just the 8 precepts that Buddhists follow, but also the Four Noble Truths. Those fit in neatly here, so let's bring them in to the spotlight.
They are:
~Suffering exists. -also refered to as The Nature of Suffering(dukkha)
~There is a cause to suffering. This is craving. - Suffering's Origin
~It is possible to have a cessation to suffering. -Suffering's Cessation (nirvana)
~There is the eightfold path leading to the cessation of suffering. - "The Path"

These are acknowledged by every Buddhist, and form the basis for following the Buddha's teachings. The Buddha was pretty damned serious about these. To quote him as directly as possible on the subject:
"These Four Noble Truths, monks, are actual, unerring, not otherwise. Therefore, they are called noble truths... .because it is beneficial, it belongs to the fundamentals of the holy life, it leads to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation of suffering, to peace, to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to Nirvana. That is why I have declared it."
It's not a suggestion or a good idea, it's the way things are. That is how serious he is about these. It is, in fact, the only thing in Buddhism that can be claimed to completely true and unwavering. All else is open to personal interpretation.

So back to not stealing (remember how we were talking about that? Yeah.) If you are in a mentality of "not having" or "wanting" or "needing", you are already in the midst of dukkha. You are craving something. It is that craving which is causing you pain, and in stealing something you have gotten away from the suffering caused by this craving. But then what you have done is only given yourself a temporary reprieve. There will be something else you crave later, and the feeling will return. Your urge to steal will return. And then you have simply begun the cycle of craving, fixating and comforting yourself all over again. You will continue to be displeased with your existence and what you have for the rest of your life.
In addition, this steps back on not harming any living thing. By taking something from another, you cause them pain as well. You transfer your lack of something to another and pass off that pain. It is a very selfish thing to do, and denotes a lack of empathy or compassion for others. So if you steal, you are not practicing compassion and you are not fully understanding the Four Noble Truths. You're not doing so well as a Buddhist, my friend.

~I will abstain from all sexual practices/"sexual misconduct".
Ohhh my, the debate I've come across on this one. Does one not have sex at all? Does one get rid of their whips and chains? Or is the Buddha outright saying that homosexuality is wrong?
There are many treatises out there on the whole subject, since sexuality is a huge part of who we are and what we do. It sort of continues our species, after all, and even Buddha had to admit that the body had its needs and biological drives.
The generally accepted precept is that of the sexual misconduct, based on the Buddha's teachings to not be hurtful towards other living beings. Sex in and of itself can be a nurturing act, and can lead to enlightenment in some cases when properly practiced. Therefore, if it is said that you shouldn't be having sex, it's because of two possibilities.
First, the thought of it is a distraction and gets in the way of meditation and enlightenment. Most monks and some nuns take a vow of chastity so that they don't have to focus on that part of their biology and are free to only follow the teachings of the Buddha, freeing them from spring break at the Jersey Shore and the huge distractions it could lead to. If you're not trying to hook up, after all, that energy can go towards reading and meditation.
The second is that as with stealing, the want for sex or the excess of it in one's life is a form of craving. It's possible to become addicted. When that is the case you are once more trapped by dukkha and not clear-minded in your perception of the world or what's going on. If everything you do is about hooking up, you'll never be out of that same cycle of wanting, obtaining, comforting, then back to wanting again.
In this case, sex between spouses or loving couples is not a breaking of this precept. Sex out of boredom, that is harmful, that is based on lies, that is used as a weapon somehow against another, is what does it. Most people agree that rape, molestation and prostitution/paying for sex are among the realms of "misconduct" because they involve hurting the other party, OR patronizing something that is fixated on a pleasurable thing that could become an obsession. Cheating on one's spouse is included here because of the pain it would cause the spouse. Homosexuality is included in a few branches of Buddhism here, but the same can be said of any major religion; some believe it's fine, some think it's evil.
For the record, I think if it's consensual and both sides get something out of it, the Buddha probably wouldn't have minded. So long as it didn't become something to crave or something to obsess over, then it is not misconduct. Take it or leave it.

~I will abstain from uttering lies. (this is sometimes tied in with "Right Speech" with the Noble Eightfold Path)
Another big one, this includes speaking angrily against others (sometimes), gossiping, or generally being that person at work that everyone hates because they know you'll bitch behind their backs about something. In general, you come across as a miserable example of the human race with no ability to see the positive.
I've got many examples of this. I've sat next to an elderly woman on an airplane who did nothing but bitch about her seat (she had the window, I was stuck in the middle), the air being stale, the drinks, you name it. All she did was complain, and at the time I was young and did not know about the teachings of the Buddha. What I did have, though, was an ear infection. When the plane took off I was in so much pain that I dropped the pen I'd been writing with and clasped both sides of my head, grimacing in agony as my ear drum fought not to burst.
The woman next to me who had nothing nice to say came alive, wriggling in her seat, asking me hundreds of questions, wanting me to agree that the flight was awful, seeing that I was in pain and somehow I knew in my small teenage way that the bitch was feeding off of my agony in that moment. I was utterly disgusted with her, and wanted to turn and rip her head off and tell her to back the fuck off, because she smelled and tasted of vultures rushing a corpse. Her energy was awful and made my stomach turn. Mystical experiences in economy class aside, I knew that the answer was NOT to respond to her in kind, as it would then give her leave to be nasty the rest of the flight, and also bolster her power.
Instead, I said very calmly and quietly "Huh, it seems the antibiotics haven't kicked in yet. Oh well, they will by the end of the flight, we've got 5 hours."
And she died in her seat. Shrank away, even. Stared at me. I then did what came to me naturally, and did the exact opposite of what she wanted (because I was and am still a shit) and smiled, saying "It's going to be really good to see my family again. The antibiotics are so I can have a good time. I'm really looking forward to it."
And that ended all over comments from Elderly Bitchy Woman next to me.
As I look back on the incident, there are a few things to take from this. One, that the woman was unhappy, and she probably wasn't unhappy about the flight, really. She was probably frustrated from the long lines out of Sea-Tac, the confusing gate setup, the construction going on that caused so much confusion, and of course the lovely screening process -this was pre-911. She already knew getting on the plane that she was going to be uncomfortable for 5 hours, and it's enough to make anyone cranky. So even if she was not an overly negative person to start with, that was enough to switch her over. By not snapping at her angrily, by taking in Right Speech, I completely disarmed her. I may have even given her something to think about and focus on that was positive. At the time my goal was just to shut her up, but in hindsight the interaction did a lot more for me. I learned the fine technique of not speaking ill towards another person or about another person. Well, except for the fact that 15 years later I'm bitching about her on my blog, but we'll pretend it's entirely to make a point.
Not lying, the more obvious part of the precept should be, well, obvious. Don't lie. It's that simple. Why would you, anyway? Lying causes pain to another person. Do you want to be lied to? As it is, we have such a tentative grasp on what we ~think~ reality is, that supplying incorrect information about it just adds to the confusion. Confusion leads to misunderstanding and pain. Be plain in your speech, say what you mean, and your life will be easier. You won't run the risk of getting fired for inflating all the naughty things a coworker did and gossiping about it. You won't lose the trust of your friends.
Not lying also means not having to maintain the lie. Putting extra energy in to maintaining something that is not the truth begins to lead to suffering and fear on your part. Even if you aren't striving for enlightenment, what a pain in the ass to have to spin the world wider and wider around the white lie you told! Then comes the fear, the fixation on making sure you aren't found out, the fallout when you are... and all of this takes away from just living. So... just don't lie. Seriously, it isn't worth the energy that goes in to it. People will respect you for your honesty and forthrightness, and know that you're the one to trust with things. That can't hurt in the workplace or with friends.

~I will refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness.
This one is one that is probably ignored at least a little by most Western Buddhists, probably some Eastern ones as well (as evidenced by the wall o' whiskey available in most convenience stores in Japan).
This one's a good one. Why? Because it acknowledges the fact that human beings are human, and do stupid stuff under the affect of liquid courage. So while you might not have meant to be brash and insulting at the night club while under the influence of 3 martinis, your friend's new girlfriend might not have known that. Now there's stress between you and her, and because of this between you and your friend. Your other friends, naturally, will be drawn in to it to. So one moment of carelessness brought on by being high or drunk can cause a lot of dukkha, a lot of pain, amongst friends and people you just run in to.
Add to this that one can't perceive the true nature of reality while completely shitfaced, and it's just a "no duh" scenario. You can't drive a car on a solid, paved road and both items are tangible and familiar. How on earth do you expect to direct your mind to nirvana?
Since we are at all times striving to be mindful and in the moment, even taking 5 minutes out to drink can take away from that. When you actively take a drink, you're saying "I can't see the moment and do not want to be fully aware of it". This removes you from a meditative mind.
Even though I acknowledge this truth and understand it, I would be remiss in not saying that I had two glasses of wine last night, which I enjoyed. It was not to the point of palpable intoxication, but even in taking the drink the words echoed in my head that one should not. I excused myself with the clever thought that I wasn't going to be enlightened right then anyway, and proceeded; the mere act of that, however, was a self-fulfilling prophecy and a denunciation of the mind's ability to open up and perceive reality at any point if we only let go of our preconceptions. So big fail on my part.
In this case, it's pretty obvious also that drinking and drugs can lead to dukkha pretty quickly, especially if someone overindulges and becomes addicted. When your focus is on getting more liquor, you've stuck yourself right in the cycle of suffering pretty squarely. There are websites out there on this that are good even if not from a Buddhist perspective, and I shall leave the cycle of addiction to them. You see the point by now.

At this point that's the end of the 5 precepts most people undertake, and the ones that I usually actively work for. The following 3 are of a more unusual nature, and more culturally incited, not so at home in the West.

~I will abstain from eating after noon time.
Many monks will do this, and many will only eat solid food before noon. Liquids, teas, honey, all appear to be okay.
To quote Dhammadana once more, "That is to say: I will never consume any solid foods after the solar noon (which, in Paris, befalls around 1:30 P.M. during the summer time, and around 12:30 A.M. during the winter time) and this, until the following dawn. During this period, I will no even drink milk, which is considered as a solid food, as it is very nourishing. In case of severe hunger or a great lack of energy, honey, molasses, liquid sugars, oil and butter are also authorised."
So if you're having low blood sugar, it's okay to partake of honey, molasses or butter. Being a dead Buddhist keeps you from attaining enlightenment, and so that is not a good thing.
By only taking your meals before noon, this also means that you are not fixated on what's for dinner, and can focus on doing your meditations or chores for the day. The body can actually process carbohydrates and other things earlier in the day than later, as well, so this makes sense biologically. Our Western idea to eat a large dinner is somewhat counter-intuitive to what our bodies desire... that is, to break the fast with a meal to fuel our day, and just sustain it with smaller meals from there on out.
I don't follow this for my own health and cultural reasons; once hypoglycemic, I needed to be able to partake of fruits and proteins in the evening to keep from passing out occasionally. Now that I am taking medication, I need to be able to consume food in the evenings to ease a queasy stomach, acting as if I am diabetic per the medication's direction. Many small meals, in this case. Others don't because it doesn't fit in the way our society is formed and if there is one thing that is incredibly difficult to do, it is go against cultural expectations. We've built our lives around 3 meals a day. Not doing so makes you weird, and gets difficult to follow. Who wants to be the person the office whispers about because you eat a tiny lunch and will only drink tea the rest of the day? That's the kind of crap cultural pressure will do to you. Health reasons aside, keeping a mind that isn't drowsy from a body digesting high fats and sugars in the afternoon, or distracted by needing to shove something down its throat leads to a more awake and mindful individual.

~I will abstain from listening or playing music, songs, wearing flowers, jewellery and other ornaments.
This comes back to being distracted again. Music and songs (and some say dancing fits in here) are all part of being distracted. By singing and making merry you're once again not being mindful and in the moment. At least, the usual atmosphere where you find these things is not one conducive to being so. MTV's spring break doesn't really seem like a contemplative paradise, does it? That's because blasting music and hanging out is a mild form of escapism, and of the same ilk as taking drugs and drinking. In fact, you find the 3 together VERY often.
This one is hard, because I adore music. I adore singing and playing musical instruments and I adore listening. But it is understandable how this can fit in to distractions in one's daily life that keep one from being in the moment.
It is entirely possible to be one with the moment when playing an instrument. Most musicians know of being in "the zone" where there's no wrong way to play the note, no bad tempo, nothing but them and the instrument and it seems like there's no space in between. In that space one can become so mindful of what is going on that they seem to perceive how to operate with the instrument on an almost preternatural level. This is not being distracted, this is being meditative. But if you are going to a party to dance and be loud, and it is not intended as a place to be mindful of what's going on, then it's all merely noise and distraction.
To this I add: I freakin' hate parties and large groups of people. It's always seemed like lots of sound and fury signifying nothing. Probably why I'm no fun at big gatherings, I see no point in hanging out, drinking and listening to music. It's been this way since I was a pre-teen, it isn't some Buddhist mentality I've picked up so to an end, my perceptions fit nicely in here. I won't give up my music collection, though, as I love the beautiful things mankind can create when given freedom. I'll simply strive to be more mindful about the consumption.
In regard to flowers and ornaments and jewellry(sic), these are more of the same. They're merely pretty things to delight you for a short while with their colors and shiny-ness before the delight of them fades away. It could lead to buying more jewelry because the old stuff is out of style or not impressive enough anymore, or being sad that the flowers died and wishing they hadn't. Just lots and lots of opportunity for dukkha to settle in and dump you in to a cycle of unhappiness.
I don't tend to wear jewelry because I forget. I have pieces, and when the time calls for it, then I pull them out and put them on. But in general they're tools for an occasion, to portray an image I wish others to perceive. I just don't do shiny things for the sake of shiny things. Hell, I barely do makeup. I am a lazy adherent of this whole thing, you might say.

And finally!
~I will refrain from lying or seating on high and luxurious places.
The high seating was already explained, but why is luxurious thrown in there? Yep, back to dukkha.
You have a seat. You should be happy to be able to sit. If you are, it means you aren't working, or you're at a job that you can. To wit, it also means you have a job, period, to be sitting at or resting from, but I digress.
Longing for a better seat, or being distracted by the uber-comfiness of a great chair, as has often been stated, will get in the way of mindfulness. Being able to sit on anything, no matter what, is just fine. Forgetting about the appropriateness of a milk crate versus a $500 reclinable office chair, it is still a seat. What seat you should have in a certain situation is artificial, anyway. We have gravity, and we have a floor or ground. Anything else besides that is nice and probably a bit more comfortable. In life, though, we can get along without chairs if we have to.
I could go off on a dissertation about how the mere act of sitting is taken for granted, but I'll spare folks. Perhaps another time. :)

Anyway... as mentioned, most people keep the first 5, some keep the last 3. And some slavishly follow all of them to the letter as best as they can, while flagellating themselves if they overstep the line at some point, or don't seem to be "doing it right". Which is silly, as these are not commandments, they're just suggestions.
Why bother with outlining all of this? So we can move on to part 3 with an understanding of what is being talked about and the thought process behind most suggestions in Buddhism.
Here ends Part Two.

"I find your lack of faith disturbing." - pt. 1

It isn't often that I actually post about the Buddhist side of things on what is purportedly a Buddhist blog. I feel there's more to the doing of the Buddhist bits than the telling of it, and the doing doesn't go so well at times. Nobody wants to hear about how I suck at zazen or can't explain this fantastic insight I had the other day, so typically I leave such things to my own life. Unless I get really frustrated, then I vent.
It is tough to be Buddhist. Why? Because most people who come to it from a Western background are looking for a replacement for their religion or the thing that answers those questions that whatever they formerly believed in no longer does. We want a church that isn't a church because we didn't like the message there. But when we're handed the 8 precepts and told to go drink tea we stare at what we're holding and sometimes don't comprehend that truly it is that simple.
I will cop to the fact that right now, in this very instant, if someone pulled a gun on me and told me to recite the 8 precepts or die, I would die. I know some of them. No drinking. No dancing. Abstain from sexual behaviours -some take this to mean don't have sex, others take this to mean don't be a nympho, and others take this to mean that you shouldn't do the kinky shit or get fixated on it- and do not harm another living thing. My stint in to vegetarianism, which was enjoyed but short-lived, was a nod to this.
To add to the confusion, for some there are only FIVE precepts. Several people just don't include the one about not dancing, because it doesn't really pertain to a modern life.
Some people take these to be like the 10 commandments, which if you line them up, are eerily similar. In fact, let's compare.
The 8 precepts (I can cheat off this later if the gunman shows up):
~I will abstain from being harmful to living beings
~I will abstain from stealing.
~I will abstain from all sexual practices. (some translations say "sexual misconduct")
A note is included here on the page that I am pulling these from that states "Beware: "When we only deal with the five precepts, the 3rd thus becomes:
I will abstain from all inconvenient sexual practices
That is to say: I will not commit adultery, I will not indulge into any illegal sexual relationship, neither through prostitution, etc." (and this fits in more with the Western take on things)
~I will abstain from uttering lies.
~I will refrain from intoxicating drinks and drugs which lead to carelessness. (You can't tell me Richard Gere doesn't have wine every now and then)
~I will abstain from eating after noon time. (This is also ignored by the Western world, although not a bad idea, really, for those attempting to get control of their weight or blood sugar levels. There is more explanation of it on the Dhammadana site
~I will abstain from listening or playing music, songs, wearing flowers, jewellery and other ornaments. (This is a necessary part of existance for women dressing in a work environment, at least for the jewelry and ornaments. Music, songs, wearing flowers? All horrible distractions. Yet I love music above most things. Does this make me horrid??)
~I will refrain from lining or seating on high and luxurious places. (This is actually a cultural precept, in that gods and "saints" were placed on daises above others to show their importance. Sitting on a high seat might accidentally place you above them, and be misinterpreted as thinking highly of one's self - among other interpretations.)

The list is actually rather familiar to most. Don't lie. Don't steal. Dont' cheat. Don't speak ill of another person... there are several different interpretations of this, as many of these as there are versions of the Bible. When you're dealing with teachings that went through 4 other languages first before being translated in to English, and being of an esoteric and not necessarily directly translatable idea, there opens the door to confusion.
These things aside, how different are they from the 10 commandments? Well...

First off, we once again run in to the issue of which 10 commandments to address. Wikipedia, that fine and beloved storehouse for the common knowledge of the world, lists no less than three different interpretations of the 10 commandments based on which religious text is referenced.

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: (I could actually name all of these from memory, amusingly)
~Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
~Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth.
~Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
~Keep the sabbath day to sanctify it, as the LORD thy God hath commanded thee.
~Honour thy father and thy mother.
~Thou shalt not kill. (we have a match!)
~Neither shalt thou commit adultery. (and again, whether you take with the 5 or 8 precepts)
~Neither shalt thou steal. (And again!)
~Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour. (We're on a roll!)
~Neither shalt thou desire thy neighbour's wife, neither shalt thou covet thy neighbour's house, his field, or his manservant, or his maidsevant, his ox, or his ass, or any thing that is thy neighbour's. (and once again, this ties in to stealing, as well as to hurting another living thing. If you covet something, you're doing harm to yourself in the wasted energy, and potential harm to the thing you are coveting by being obessed by it. It all ties in.)

So the first 5 are more concerned with setting up ways in which you would honor and obey Jehovah, Or YHWH as they would've called him. But following this setup, we begin to see the basis of almost every moral code I've come across, which is "be excellent to each other."
Crazy 90's movie quotes aside, it's very true. The Golden Rule is at the base of this... do unto others as you'd have done unto you. Nobody likes being stolen from or lied about.
Let's take this one step further, though, and tread back in to the territory of Buddha.
The Golden rule immediately invokes something that is touted as being the way to enlightenment; compassion and empathy. We all know what it was like to be deceived. We've all lost something or had it stolen. The Golden Rule invites us to stop and put the world of another in the perspective of our own existence, then turn outwards to another in order to understand them. Having empathy for another is the beginning of treating everyone well. We see this in the 10 Commandments and the 8 Precepts as well, since nobody really wants their ass coveted.
So we have these rules, and we have variations on these rules, be it cultural, interpretative, or "updating" them for modern times. Isn't it fantastic to have a guidebook to tell you where to go and what to do?
Perhaps, but if you're Buddhist, then you would actually do better to toss all of these aside. Why? Because these are stones to cling to as you walk your path, and in the slavish carrying of them they actually deter your growth. You can abstain from sex until the cows come home and never touch a drop of alcohol or a sniff of cocaine, and even so you will never know what enlightenment is about.
Here's the sketchy part, because I'm not going to pretend that I'm enlightened. This is actually just me being loud and tossing my opinion about, and it needs to be taken for what it is - that of a layperson without a lot of formal study in the matter. You have been warned.
First and foremost, I still think I actually exist as a being and a person, and that who I am is static. As much as I've tried to work my way out of this, I'm pretty sure in my mind that I exist as a preconceived set of "Helenisms". That very idea keeps me from enlightenment, though I've tried to get around it.
Going along with this sticky bit is looking for rules to help you out. Just following them because they're there without questioning if they are indeed right for you is tantamount to deciding that you exist and everything around you is static. It's a totally alien concept for those of us borne out of a non-mystical tradition where science showed us we have DNA that tells us what we'll look like and even how we'll act. There's barely room in our "knowledge" for anything else. It isn't even something so deep as Fate, it's biology. We all agree we will be a certain way some day and head for it because we've been taught that's what we do. We need to be somebody, though that somebody is an amalgamation of expectations that were taught or learned or sold to us. We follow rules handed to us because we want the guidelines.
I'm actually going to split this up in to 3 parts so people don't go blind reading. Here ends Part One.

Friday, April 9, 2010

April - Part One

Courtesy of Neil Gaiman on Twitter, I stumbled across the Guys Lit Wire and their book drive to get books to those in need.

The most recent drive is to help out with Navajo and Apache teens who are lacking books for their library.

For Ojo Encino I donated 2 books, for Alchesay I donated 3. Just knowing that these are going to be received and read excitedly gives me a huge warm fuzzy. Books fed me in my youth and formed a lot of who I am today. Passing that along to someone else and letting them explore worlds beyond this in between the covers of a book makes me smile BIG time.

If you want to help out as well – and really, there’s no good reason not to since it’s being done through the utterly awesome Powell’s City of Books, where most used paperbacks are $5 – you can check it out here:
Guys Lit Wire-Book Drop Event for Navajo and Apache Teens.

I would highly suggest just going to look at what they want to read and snagging even one book.

This is not the last of the deeds for April, this was just the first completed this month. :)

How to go on a road trip with no destination

"Reminds me of my old Gypsy days."

How I did it: I found myself looking out at a beautiful spring day with a driving need to be out in it, experiencing someplace new! So I grabbed the dog, put him in the passenger seat, and we drove off in a direction I'd never gone before! I specifically chose a length of rural highway where we would get to see trees and countryside and possibly see some older architecture and little towns that we drove through. I also made sure to remember specifically which roads I turned at, and tried to keep it simple by staying on marked state roads. The majority of the drive was along Lincoln Highway and the Octorara Trail, easy to follow back home.
The dog calmed down and just watched the road roll by after the first few minutes. We made our way in to some beautiful farmland and startled an entire flock of crows off the side of the road so that they rose like a wall of inky black. It was really neat.
Saw lots of horses, cows, and a cow that I originally thought was a brown bush until it turned it's head and I could see the antlers and the broad, pink nose. Had to laugh at that one, he was lying down and hard to identify!
Eventually we came back and I snagged hot dogs for myself and the puppy, who'd never had one before. I had to convince him to eat the actual hot dog and not just the bun, but he caught on. When he was done inhaling his, he stared at me while I ate mine and drooled. Well learned, puppy dog.
Only a few small things marred the trip. At one point the dog threw up from being motion sick, BUT... he did it neatly in to the cupholder, so the mess didn't get everywhere. Only downside was that this was where I'd put the leash before driving so I had easy access to it when we wanted to get out. So... yeah... the leash has some "residue." Ew.
I really enjoyed it, and enjoyed taking the dog with me. In the future, though, I may just go on my own since he always seems to throw up after about half an hour of driving. Best to leave him home while having fun and random drives, save traveling with him for when there's a direct route to somewhere he can get out and play.

Lessons & tips: ~if you go by yourself, make sure you have a way to get back, be it GPS or written notes.
~stop to take pictures! You'll find something totally neat while driving, I guarantee you! to that end, remember to bring a camera along!
~if you're taking a pet with you, make sure they can handle the car trip without being distracting or getting sick. If not, find a way to confine them where they won't become a nuisance as you drive, and give them the critter equivalent of dramamine for the motion sickness.
~Pick somewhere that you know will have a change of scenery. The brain feels refreshed when it encounters novelty and pretty landscapes; if you're suburban, go urban or rural. If you're urban, find the farmlands! If you're rural, go in to the city and pick up on that energy that can only come from a busy metropolis.

Resources: For this you need access to a car, and a map or GPS. Other than that... go!

It took me 1 day.

It made me restful!

A Spring Breeze

This is actually my front yard, only possible to capture because nobody has come by to cut the grass yet. It's romantic in the breeze. But then... I've always loved it when the wind blows.

Next I may try to video the blossoms raining down off the trees in the breeze.

How's spring faring where everyone else is?

How to use more Middle Eastern and Asia recipes in my cooking.

"Tasty alternative to frozen foods!"

How I did it: I've had multiple cookbooks detailing cooking from the middle east and asia. Recently with our vow to not eat out more than once every two weeks we've had to get creative to keep from eating frozen foods constantly as a matter of convenience.
With the challenge of wanting to keep things interesting I dug through one of several cookbooks and found quick and tasty recipes to make. We've had tagines, couscous, soba noodles in soup, onigiri, and any other number of Chinese, Japanese, Indian and Moroccan dishes. My husband has never once been bored with it, and often requests we make them over again.
Given that I made a tagine with fish on Monday, a snack of soba noodles with dipping soup Wednesday, and this weekend we'll be having beef sukiyaki, I consider our transition to using more exotic recipes in our daily diet complete.

Lessons & tips: ~if you don't already have several cookbooks, there are at least a hundred websites out there to help you out. Just google whatever you're trying to do or whatever you're curious about and begin reading. Check multiple sites for the same type of food to see what most people suggest trying.
~if you don't have the special equipment they talk about for some type of ethnic food, just keep researching. Someone somewhere will have a work-around to use standard Western pots and pans to work with it.
~be willing to experiment! It might sound daunting or crazy, but you'll learn a lot about different ways to cook your standard ingredients and add new tricks to your palette and chef's repertoire! If you're nervous about trying a new technique, read the recipe through several times until you're sure of what they're talking about, then go to it!
~if after reading how to do something you're STILL not quite sure how to do it, check YouTube. I guarantee you there's a video on there somewhere demonstrating the technique. Just do a search and watch away. In no time you'll be a pro!

(Just do a google search. There are specialty sites for EVERYTHING out there.) - for any books if you're the kind of person that likes to have a physical book on hand. cookbooks can be really expensive, so Amazon's New and Used function can help save a bundle sometimes!

It took me 4 months.

It made me excited to cook!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

It's not a goodbye, it's an "until we meet again"...

You start to realize you might be serious about something when you're willing to put down whatever you truly love to do in order to obtain or complete whatever your goal is.

I sort of hit that wall today.
I have a ridiculous love for all things photographical. I love old cameras and new cameras. I love plastic and metal and digital and analog (really I love the film cameras more, they seem 'warmer' somehow), twin lens or SLR... they're all beautiful. And of course, everyone's seen me whine about not being able to get my hands on glitzy Korean pieces of plastic. Which, btw, I'm embarassed to say I had no 35 mm film on hand to shoot with, unless I wanted to blow my redscale. I may do that very thing just to see how it goes since there's nothing else, and I'm buying no more new.

That's right... for the time being there's no more photography. At least... none with film.

When I calculated up what it would cost to get the various rolls of film processed that I have already shot over the course of a year and some months of owning my various beauties, I about fainted. Yes, it's an expensive hobby. It's also a good argument for ONLY shooting black and white, since I could buy the chemicals and develop it myself. Then I would only be sending out the color shots, and that would save me quite a bit of money. I am, thus far, really loving the glorious tones of the b&w film inside a holga. The diana? Dunno. She hasn't really had a chance to wow me, since I haven't gotten any of her film developed. She's for next month. I'd be lying if I didn't say I was excited to see how she went through her paces.
But at this point I realized that this would represent a sizable investment of money... either in setting up a darkroom and getting chemicals, or in sending all of my film off to Oregon, to the only place I really trust with my 120 and 110 format film right now. we're actually talking probably upwards of $500 all told, no matter which route I go. and really we just do not have that kind of money for what is basically a hobby of mine.
Trust me, I harbor no illusions anymore of becoming a famous photojournalist and finding elusive animals in the Amazon for National Geographic. I'm not that girl. As much as I'd love the trip to the Amazon I don't have the equipment or the experience, and frankly I'm having a hard enough time just getting my degree in programming. I don't need to try and pick up a second occupation right now! Especially not one that would involve such massive expense up front. I am, as always, an adoring amateur with a love for the painting of light on film. I will never be in a warzone smoking cigarettes and swearing with the troops and locals, or following the aftermath of natural disasters. If anything I'll have a showing or two of my very best items, and then once out of my system, I'll move on. Simply enough.
I have in my possession only a few more rolls of film. My Holga is loaded up with a roll of Fuji Velvia 100 speed film, known for it's love of sinking color deep down in to the chemical layers of its celluloid body. I have another single roll of Fuji Velvia that is still pristine in it's foil packaging. In our fridge's vegetable drawer I have 3-4 rolls of IR film for an experiment that I won't get to try (Needed a 52mm IR refractive lens for the Holga, no money for that right now) at least for the next several months, and I have a backlog of 110 film for my little iKimono, say 4-5 rolls. They last longer, being that they have 24 shots to the roll, and therefore will last me longer... if I were to continue shooting.
See, here's the thing. We can either save for a house and get out of this place that has toilets that run constantly after you flush, linoleum peeling up from the edges, paint cracking and peeling off the walls and light fixtures falling from the ceilings (literally, the one in the bathroom has been fixed twice now and continues to want to succumb to gravity), or I can get my film developed, have lots of stupid bottles of ink and art supplies and piles of yarn I can't knit fast enough to get through... etc. But the photography thing is big right now, since the thought of knitting mittens and sweaters seems somewhat laughable in light of the EIGHTY EIGHT DEGRE WEATHER today. That and we're about to take off for a lot of our expected fun things we do in the spring and summer. Cherry Blossom Festival. Wine and Jazz Festival. Celtic Fling - although this year we've decided we've had enough of that.
Some of my first lomography images came out of a trip to Longwood Gardens, at the very Wine and Jazz festival that we'll be headed to in May. If I had to actually NOT take photos while there, I seriously don't know what I'd do with myself. Exaggerated reaction, perhaps. But I am always looking around and seeing moments that want for the capturing. Sometimes the camera on my cell phone can do the deed. But sometimes you just need the soft focus of a plastic lens to catch the feeling of the day.
I know I can take good photos with my cellphone, as I've rendered some beautiful ones. In fact, I'm pretty damned good at this point gauging an image and the light, so I'm not entirely devoid of the ability to take photographs. Just film. And just for now, because there's already an immense backlog on what I've taken vs. what I've gotten developed, I'm stopping.
I need to be able to walk my dog and not look out for every else's dog crap they didn't pick up. I'd like to not encounter cigarette butts from the little teenage jerks that come to the side of our house and smoke, then toss their butts on the ground. I'd like to let him go outside and play in the sunshine in a backyard big enough for him to run back and forth in and play fetch.
I want a room that's dedicated to all the craft junk I have, so I can get it out of the mix of various places it is around this house. And a room to have guests in to enjoy a meal. I want a neighborhood with lots of kids to hand candy out at Halloween, and with trees to decorate with lights in the winter for Xmas. I want to be able to paint the walls and feel free to hang artwoork everywhere without thinking about losing a deposit of some sort! And if a section of the floor is destroyed by pets and mold, I want to actually be able to tear it up and replace it instead of having to sit and suffer for 6 months breathing the funk when one got near it.
This is a worthwhile goal. Not to have a place to live, we already have that. I'm gunning for a home. Somewhere that I can't wait to come home to in the evenings from my job doing something awesome.
I haven't purchased art supplies since we grabbed the Chinese watercolors in Chinatown, Boston. The reason i did that was so i could fulfill my promise to Bob to paint him a beautiful ink and watercolor landscape in Chinese style, with the idea that it would be hung in our new home. I am content to not touch anything else or ask for anything else for now. I would rather have the inspiration strike me as I look at the wall the new artwork will go on. I can wait for that.
As far as yarn, my other weakness, goes? I noted yesterday that my favorite seller has the very, very rare yak and bamboo yarn back in stock. Twenty dollars. It took all of my will power not to buy it, as it's super soft and I've been wanting to create a pair of very comfy "house socks" out of what I have, but don't have enough. Nope. It'll wait. $20 is a gasket and some hardware for something in a house. $20 is a new light fixture. Perhaps I shall ask for it for my birthday from my mother, who knows I have a yarnlust that can be huge. HOWEVER... I have been good. I haven't purchased any lately. Because I'd rather have a house with a fireplace to knit next to than be knitting a sweater to keep warm in this same place.
Ugh. Being an adult can rankle sometimes. This, however, is truly worth it. I'm okay with putting the cameras down for a bit.
It'll be damned hard not to blow that last roll of Velvia in the Big Apple next week, though, when we go to look at the Tim Burton exhibit. *SIGH*

Friday, April 2, 2010

Beantown in Hindsight

It is very telling that I make fewer updates to this blog now that I've discovered 750 Words. I've enjoyed having a place to unload, and noted that as a side affect I'm a bit more eloquent and feel the creative juices flowing a bit more easily these days. But the concept of the Morning Pages has always been one I've embraced, and I like having the chance to revisit it digitally.

Boston. I'd intended to write while there, but as so often happens in life the hours snuck away from me and before I knew it the sun had long set, the moon had long risen and my feet were very sore. Most evenings after we got back we collapsed and slept soundly. It felt good to be so active when normally we're not. I liked getting to explore, and having the luxury of a knowledgeable tour guide to enjoy it with. But time often got away from me and I found myself so enamored with what we'd done that what didn't get done slipped away from me and I didn't have the power or the givadam to care.

What we saw this trip, when we were not laden with the curiosities of a relationship still young and testing its boundaries, was the town that had spawned so many different lives and thoughts. Bob showed me his old neighborhood and where we used to be, and had that sad moment of realizing things about it had changed and would not return to the way he had known it. I felt for him in looking around Seattle on Capital Hill and seeing how many stores had gone up, how every vacant lot was crammed with at least 2 stories of shops or parking garages, and my favorite coffee house was long replaced by 2 others that had struggled in its place.
We videotaped his recollections, albeit with quite a bit of emotional blackmail from being the lens, as bob didn't seem so set on telling it for the sake of posterity. I think he is such a private person that even the thought of having his recollections on a disc that no one might ever see, it still really bothers him. As it was, he was very deadpan about delivering his stories, whereas moments before he'd been smiling and happy and pointing out where things were that he'd remembered. I figured that something recorded was better than nothing. I'll know in my memory the look of shining boyhood on his face that arose to recall evenings on the lawn of the Christian Science Center, and spending time with D&D books at the Compleat Strategist. I loved getting to see the old computer labs he used to spend most of his time in as he learned to program, and how animated he became in pointing out where the other students would swear at each other or about their equipment. There was nothing left but a very highly traveled linoleum floor, some of the older signs, and dirty tracks from where the tables used to be bolted down. I could easily imagine him hunkered over one of the machines playing MUDs, or plugging away at coding homework trying to figure out why some of it wasn't working the way I find myself now. I loved getting to see these things and relive them with him, and I loved walking around with him and making more memories of our own.
Tuesday through Thursday were a very different beast than Friday through Sunday. The first half of the week was spent reminiscing, revisiting old haunts, and looking around at new things together and finding neat places that weren't there in his time, or that he had never stopped to explore before. I recorded the shound of wind in the bamboo and took many, many pictures. I can't wait to get them developed (yes, of COURSE it was on film, this is me we're talking about.) Those first few days were leisurely paced, full of slowly walking and stopping to enjoy things. We looked to the city and its people and were able to take it in as a hole. It was on these days that once again the city proved to be not a construct of today, but of everything that came before. The roads that wound and twisted, the buildings that leaned or cracked and dropped their facades on the sidewalk, were all a part of this truth, forcing Boston to work around them and repair them or make do with them. We even saw one house held up with metal braces, supposedly due to it's old state and it's narrow profile. The two houses on either side of it were missing, and their brick forms were outlined in mortar on the buildings to either side that would've been pressed right up against them. Even in their absence, you felt the buildings that didn't appear to be there. Such was the entirety of the city. Everywhere you went, you felt what was underneath or attached or formerly there. It all left an indelible mark in the formation whether the current residents were aware of it or not.
I liked that. I like that something is such a part of a place that it is subtle, almost subliminal in its presence.
In my heart I think that though I will always love mountains and forests and I am a country girl with a need for an acre of soil and two mules, I'm an adoring worshiper of the urban presence. There is an energy that comes from the convergence of so many ideas and cultures that you cannot recreate anywhere else, and it is invigorating in the experiencing. Ideas can spring up like mushrooms in a fairy ring and spread outward bolstered by the willingness of other urban dwellers to embrace the new and the innovative. Cities feed their patrons, so long as they know how to tap in to that underlying river of common experience and energy. I will always love Seattle or Boston or Philadelphia for these reasons, because they show this aspect over and over again. It is literally possible to be and do anything in a city. I love to see what things people come up with to be.
At some point we heaved the aforementioned bottle in to the bay and watched it float away in the wind and late afternoon sunlight, and it's a moment that I hope to hold on to forever. There's nothing quite like delivering magic out in to the world.

But changing tack, oh my word were we not ready for PAX.
Neither was Boston.
Fifty THOUSAND gamers descended upon Prudential Center and its environs, clogging the food court and the walkways, taking up the elevators and escalators and coagulating in the bars and pubs of the streets and hotels nearby. It was a lovely convention center, but it was not meant to hold that many people. I had the unique experience of walking among the gamers and the Bostonians dressed in a Boston University T-shirt one afternoon. The native Bostonians must've seen my constant looks of amusement and often took the opportunity to engage me about the number of people there. I told them honestly that they were gamers, that they were here for a very unique event that was the first of its kind and yes, I too was sick of waiting 15 minutes for food at Panera Bread, though I had all afternoon and most of these poor individuals were fighting to simply get food on their lunch break. To make a quick rundown of the average opinion, I offer the following summary: What the hell, why are you people here, why the hell don't you go somewhere else to eat, you're irritating the shit out of us and making it difficult to go about our day to day existence.
I am sorry, Boston. Truly I am. I worshiped you even as I added to your congestion. But I thank you for letting me in to your confidences. It was amusing. I would've loved to hear your take on some of the cosplayers, but alas no one was around to talk to when the bare handful that actually took it upon themselves to do so wandered past. I imagine for the city that flipped out over the Mooninites Viral Artwork Ad Campaign it probably would've elicited an equally strong reaction. It would've been amusing either way.
Of those panels we managed to go see, we did enjoy them for the most part. We learned that we're best served by having light, portable entertainment and that we should expect to wait in line for at least an hour if we want to try to get in. Next time we'll know, and we'll be able to see more panels. As it was, we only really attempted to see 4, and only got in to 3. But this allowed for a Saturday spent unwinding away from all our fellow gamers in the safety of our hotel room, or a bar somewhere. I think we really needed that time, as neither I nor my spouse are truly considered a "people person". This allowed our introverted selves to recharge before leaping in to the fray.
For a trip begun and ended with the romanticism of a long train ride, and the great number of experiences had in between, I must say that in spite of the crowds and the noise and dead legs from sitting on marble floors forever were worth it. It allowed us to experience something we never had before, and to relive things that we both had. It was the perfect melding of the past and the present, and leaving us with a look of anticipation towards the future. I really can ask no more from time away from home.
Sometimes I like to think I've left somehow better and more worldly for my experiences, but in this case I don't think so. This time my beloved sense of child-like wonder gripped me constantly, allowing me to be excited by everything I came in contact with, even if it was something as simple as the carved stone around a doorway. It refilled the pools of inspiration that are fed by the slow drip of life's experiences, and recharging them is as necessary some days as eating or sleeping.
In the end, it was such a mix of things that there is no categorizing it. Simply, it was a trip; Complexly, it was an experiment to view the interaction of people with the city. We fell somewhere in between and enjoyed ourselves for the duration.
And also... there was artz. I drew every time we sat in line and have 5 new sketches to show for it. I haven't sketched in a long time, and it felt wonderful to get back to pencil and paper. I guess in addition we could say the trip was one of mending, too, in the case of the past meeting the present, and old habits reinserting themselves in to new daily rituals. There is no fast and dirty way to summarize it, and you will not find me attempting to. Anything beyond this is babble fueled by wine, and so I lay this topic to rest with another mention of my gratitude to the city and its people for having shown me what was there, and perhaps more-so what wasn't there. I'd come back with assumptions of what I would see based on the trips I'd taken before, and was mightily please that it bucked these expectations and did what it damned well pleased. I like my discoveries no other way.