Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rough Weather Ahead..

I am home to take my wife to the airport. We received news just over an hour ago that her uncle passed away, and she will be trying to get the earliest possible flight to be with her family.

I will remain in the rear to attend to whatever must needs be done.

I am sad. I feel bad for my wife, her grandmother, and the rest of our family.

Just after she received news regarding her uncle, she also received more bad news about her father, who has been ill for some time now, and who's condition is apparently beginning to take a turn for the worst.

I don't know what will happen, but I suppose the most sensible thing to do would be to batten down the hatches and prepare for whatever may come. I somehow don't think it will be in the way of the best news possible.

If any of you who read her blog see this, perhaps you might pop over and cheer her up a little? You can find her here.


So. Thats what's going on... we are in it... no place to go but forward.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

"Jack" Born: ?? ~ Died: 15 December 2007


I just finished burying a friend - Jack was a cat who adopted us some many years ago, and has lived in our yard, seeing us off whenever we would leave, and happily greeting us upon our return. He was a happy little spirit, and I will always remember him as being a constant friend and a part of everything that has taken place here for as long as we have lived in this place... He was a much beloved member of our clan, and I already miss him dearly...

See you on the other side, Jack

O dark, dark, dark. They all go into the dark.
The vacant interstellar spaces......
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

T.S. Eliot

Friday, December 14, 2007

Holiday Storm

For some reason my entire extended family is getting the living kicked out of us of late.

Every day brings more and more bad news piled on top of old bad news... I have no idea what the heck is going on!!

At first, we thought *we* were in bad shape (meaning my wife and I..), as once again we have hit a huge financial brick wall, and are working like hell to keep our heads above water, and, literally trying to keep a roof over our heads... its scary...

The tenants who lived in the downstairs apartment moved out, and just before that their cat, "Morris" who was Jack's buddy was nailed by a car and killed right in front of the house... which was very sad for all of us as Morris was a very cool cat, and was really well liked by all of us...

Jack the outside cat has taken a turn for the worse, won't eat a bite, and has started twitching and drooling... we have just about no money to pay for a vet visit, but, nevertheless, we are taking him tomorrow to be seen... part of me is in fear that he won't be coming home with us... part of me feels that whatever the price to me, it is important to do what's right for Jack. He has been my friend for some years... and he trusts me. I owe it to him to make whatever decisions are necessary to look out for his best interests. If he is suffering, and it can't be alleviated, then I guess we have to do what we have to do.. but it will break my heart to do it. He is a fixture here... and part of our family.

So many members of our family have been stricken with serious illness or have had illnesses suddenly get exponentially worse, that we don't even know who to worry about the most!!

We have been walking around getting bashed about and having the teeth rattled out of our collective heads mentally asking ourselves, "What the *fuck*?!?!"

We sat down and worked out a household budget last night... that was an adventure in adrenaline and gut-twisting, by the way... the only problem is that when we tried to find something that we could cut back on in order to save some money, we learned that we don't actually spend money on *anything* other than the bare necessities... we are some of the most frugal people we know!! Where do you go from there?? I fix my own shoes, make my own stuff... we eat for a week at a time on soups or other recipes that literally cost us pennies.. this batch of soup that we are feeding on for this week was literally made out of the scraps and leftovers that I found when I rooted around in the kitchen. It's good soup... but it was made primarily from all of the stuff that would have gone in the bin in another few days... We don't really go anywhere, we don't buy anything... we basically put all of our money towards trying to keep the bills paid. And the financial climate of late hasn't done a thing to make that any easier for us; the mortgage just increased by over a hundred dollars a month due to tax increases; and we already had some of the highest property taxes in the nation! There isn't anything to be done, we either have to find a way to pay it, or we are in major trouble - I don't even believe we would be able to scrape together enough cash to move if we had to!

We are circling the wagons and 'turtling up' to coin a phrase from my boxing days... trying to show the toughest parts of ourselves, and trying to hide the soft bits and keep them protected.

Marcheline had to have her window replaced in order for her vehicle to pass inspection... and the list of stuff just seems to go on and on and on...

Cancer, strokes, old age related stuff... so many people in our family suffering..

It is looking as though this holiday season is going to be a bit of a trying one for all of us.

I am trying to 'feel' the season.. but, honestly, I only really feel like going to bed, but, when I do; I lay there thinking of all this stuff or have freaky dreams about it all when I finally do drop off to sleep. I wake up more tired than when I laid down, and feeling as though someone has wailed the shit out of me with a baseball bat to boot!

It seems as though we turned a corner somewhere, and it suddenly became incredibly difficult to keep all of the bills paid. What on earth is going on?? The expenses just keep climbing, and the salaries go nowhere..

We have both been searching for part-time work, but nearly 95% of the job postings are bogus! The ones that *are* real are either so far away that it isn't worth even applying, or they pay crap, don't respond to the application, or they have one opening; from 10 to 2 on Tuesday, and from 3AM to 9:55AM on Thursday... what the fuck is *that*? How can you hold down a full time job and be expected to work part time in the middle of the work day?

The salaries for the jobs that *are* real, and *are* hiring would require about 90 hours per week to make a paycheck that was worth cashing... it just isn't doable.

I know that the universe doesn't conspire against us, and that things simply work out the way that they work out.. but when stuff like this happens, it is a huge reminder to me of just how small and insignificant I really am... and that everything that I know and everything that I have and am can be snuffed out in an instant - just like that! And; there is really little or nothing at all that I can do about it if it were to happen. I feel like a wee bit of flotsam in an ocean storm sometimes...

In a way thats really frightening, but in another way its really liberating. There isn't any point in worrying too much, I think, when all that I can really do is what I can do; I will either be successful, or I won't, and I will have to deal with whatever comes either way. If the worst happens, I will have to deal with it enough at that time - so no sense suffering about it now. I would be better put to use trying to respond to whatever situation is at hand, and doing the best that I can do. If I do my best, then its my best, and the outcome is the outcome. There simply isn't any other option... so, why worry about it? In Irish we have a saying that addresses this, "Marbh le Té, agus marbh gan é!" ("You are dead with your tea, or with out it!") ((the implication is that you may as well enjoy it!))

I am thankful that I have learned, through my practice, to be able to find the small enjoyable moments that are hidden, like little presents, within the maelstrom of all the other crap that is going on around me; and that I am able to enjoy those moments with the whole of my being whenever they make themselves available.

Today's sunset was one of the most beautiful, and one of the saddest, for some reason, that I can remember in a long time...

Good. Bad. Happy. Sad. Joy. Grief. Celebration. Mourning. It is all a part of my story... and I am determined not to turn away from any of it. Whatever comes, that is my life, and I am going to live it to the best of my ability.

It would be nice if we could find a way to solve the problems that are cropping up all around us... but, I suppose that is what life is about in a way. We just have to take whatever hand is dealt us, and do the best we can with what we've got.

In any case, I have to find a way to maintain my center while all of this stuff is going on.. its the only way that I can remain calm, and keep a clear mind so that I can both recognize, and react to, whatever opportunities may present themselves..

.. if and when they come, I will be waiting.



Happy Holidays, all...

Bear

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Fractal Vegetables



I came across this amazingly beautiful and intricate vegetable while perusing a library book yesterday... (yes, I know its pathetic; I actually take out books from the library about vegetables. ....You don't know the half of it!)

I was at once stunned and enchanted by the spiraling patterns within patterns.. the impossible beauty... Why haven't I ever heard of these things before now?!?!

There was no label identifying the photo in the book, so it took me a little digging around to find out what on earth I was looking at.

And so, my friends. Without further ado, I introduce to you -

The 'Broccoflower'.


Thanks to Syd - (who has de-lurked in order to lend me a hand!), I have learned that this thing is actually called a -

'Romanesco Cauliflower'

or a -

'Romanesco Cabbage'


I have learned cool stuff!! Thanks again, Syd! Don't be a stranger!

Is this thing cool, or what?!?! - AND - you can EAT IT!!! HA!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Bear's Haints

In answer to my wife's post; "Marcheline's Haints", I have decided to post a few of the pics that I took on our spooky little Graveyard Jaunt; Some have been played about with, most have not... I'll leave it up to you pick-out the 'messed about' ones from the virgins. (Always a positive thing to have a few virgins to mess about with, I always say...) (Well... this is actually the first time I have ever said that... but, I'll make a point of saying it from here on out.. Scout's Honor!!)

"Lines and Shadows"


"Endless Solitude"


"Spooky Steeple"


"A Wave From the Grave! - (Hey! That's Me!)"


"Dead, and Lichen it!"


"Tomb it May Concern..."


"A Pillar of the (Dead) Community"


"Obelisk"


"We 'Spectre' 'Round These Parts Here Pretty Soon! "


"City of the Dead"


"Shadows... and Shades"


"Grave Thoughts"


"Haunted Tree"


"The End of Days Comes for Us All..Eventually"



Well, folks... there ya have it. Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Back in 'The World'.


I have returned from my period of resident monastic training. It was tough... long days (18 to 21 hours), hard work, harsh discipline... but it was, well... profound. Life-changingly so... though I suspect that it may take me some time to fully appreciate what I mean by this... I *do* feel very much transformed by the experience, however. Much as I did upon completing basic training in the military.. You are different, and you feel different, but you aren't capable of seeing the change in yourself until much after the fact for some reason.

The long hours of exhaustion, meditation, enforced silence (there is no talking, eye contact, or even noises made by rustling or fidgeting, clearing the throat, sighing, etc., allowed), and manual labor force your normally outwardly focused attention to turn inward. There is deliberately very little to no outside stimuli at all, and your mind simply turns itself inside out in search for something to do.


This can get sticky.. as you begin to confront issues and events that you would otherwise have kept well hidden away... since you have no way of escaping them, you are forced to work with them, and, hopefully, eventually to put them to rest, or, at least... to accept them for what they are, learn what can be learned from them.. put them down.. and move on.



Time becomes an increasingly abstract concept, as watches are not allowed, and there are no clocks. Commands and instructions are given through a series of sound signals; gongs, clappers and chimes, the occasional vocal command or announcement (though these are kept to a minimum..), and hand signals (also kept to a minimum).


You are left with your own mind. Your own mind stripped bare of all of its masks, all of its accoutrements, and most (if not all) of its falsehoods and facades.

It can be unattractive. Revolting. Ugly. Frightening. ... and, eventually beautiful. With work... and very strict attentiveness, a glimpse of your actual reality and substance can be marvelous in its unadulturated 'suchness'. You are just like 'this' at this very moment... but the moment is flowing and changing and morphing... and so are you!! There is no such thing as a finished human being... we are all in a constant state of flux... and, like a silk kerchief sliding off the edge of a smoothly polished table, our lives flow without hitching up on anything.. without snagging... and without hesitation... the hesitations and snags are all in our perceptions... but life flows of its own accord, whether we are capable of seeing it or not. Like writing the story of our lives on the surface of water, we are constantly coming into existence and dissolving away simultaneously... although most of us cannot see this as it is happening.

We look inward to find our past... and outward to search for our future... but past, present, and future only exist as concepts in our minds... they are all compressed into the instantly and unceasingly flowing moment of now.

To be completely here right now is to truly embrace and engage life. To be fully here, without avoiding or averting what we dislike or fear, and without constantly seeking after what we want, or what we believe that we need is to be utterly and completely alive in the world such as it is.


And then we feel a yellow jacket land on our face, or wish that we had a doughnut.. and all of that disappears in a flash and we are back in a world of our own making...


And then we start all over again!


As I was on my way back home, I stopped to put gas in the vehicle at a station in rural upstate New York. As I was walking towards the front door of the place, a burly and very scruffy looking character looked at me through narrowed eyes. He was rough-looking, in dirty clothes, a weeks growth of beard, and sporting a set of 'Billy-Bob' teeth like tombstones... each pointing in its own direction, and each a slightly different shade of an indistinct color in the gray-green-yellow-brown spectrum. He walked into the place just ahead of me, and as I turned to look behind me, holding the door for the person I could hear coming after me, I saw a very large lumber-jack looking fellow in rubber waders, and a torn up green janitorial shirt, with a lantern jaw and piercing blue eyes. (He wouldn't have looked particularly out of place dressed in wolf pelts with a horned helmet and a huge ax in his large gnarly hands.)


There were a number of other equally troublesome-looking types inside the place, all looking at me.


(Fuck! Here we go!) I thought, as I approached the counter and got into line.


'Teeth' turned around to look me boldly in the face, and fully expected some type of challenge to issue forth...


He smiled a huge smile.. with those teeth of his... then jerked his chin towards the window on the far side of the building through which a large lake or pond was visible, and said, "At leasht shomebody is having shome fun! Them Geeshe shure are beatiful to look at!"


I looked where he had indicated, and flock of Canadian Geese were flapping and frolicking in the water, and they were, indeed, very, very beautiful to look at!!


I looked back at my friend, with new eyes, and returned his frank, open, innocent, and completely unassuming smile.. sharing and enjoying the moment with him. We conversed for a few moments, he told me that he had just finished cutting acres of hay, and now he was on his way to cut acres of grass.

The lumberjack cut in, asking me if I was one of the Zen Monks. I admitted that I was, and he smiled a huge smile, offered his hand, and said, "I always wanted to actually meet one of you folks, but I've always been shy about just walking up and trying to start a conversation... do you like being a monk?? Is it hard?? Can anybody do it??"

Once again, my perceptions were turned on their head by the reality of the situation, and spoke with him for a little while. Other folks offered their comments and smiles, and soon it was time for me to pay the cashier and head out.. to a chorus of "Safe trip!" and "Take care, now!" and other well-wishes... from total strangers.


I could not have been more mistaken in my pre-judgment of these people if I had tried. My instant judgment of these people was entirely based upon my own pre-existing attitudes, opinions, preferences, and aversions... rather than upon the reality of the situation.


I am grateful to life for being such a wonderful teacher... and to my Zen practice for giving me the clarity and calmness of mind (some of the time) to recognize the teaching when it takes place.

I may have been transformed by my experience during this training retreat.. but, as I drove towards home down the highway, surrounded by mountains covered in the spectacularly vibrant autumn greens, golds, oranges, reds, and browns.. under an impossibly high and freshly scrubbed sky, It occurred to me that, clearly, life wants me to know that there is much more in store for me to learn before it is all over.


I am always and constantly arriving...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

So, What's the Deal?!


I am a patient man.. no.. really!! I am *extremely* patient...

I don't mind waiting...

I am the one who generally reminds others,... very gently..., that there is no reason to get uptight when faced with a delay..

But.. (yes... there's always a but, isn't there?)

Here's my question;

What *exactly* is so FRIGGIN' difficult about using an ATM??


  1. The directions are right there ON THE SCREEN!!

  2. You get to pick your own language!!

  3. Chances are - YOU HAVE DONE THIS BEFORE!!


ATMs aren't new any more...

Soooooo......

Why?

Why?

Why?!

WHY!!??!!



WHY is this so difficult??

Not for nothin'... (what does that even mean??)... but, I can exit my vehicle, approach the ATM, perform whatever transactions I require, and be back in my vehicle with the seatbelt on in about 90 seconds... and I am not world-renowned for being the fastest-moving human being on earth!!

So why is it that I so often end up standing in the vestibule of the bank, ATM card in hand, watching some jackass - uh... technologically challenged individual ham-handedly stabbing away... apparently at random.. or playing the world's longest game of "Guess my PIN Code!" ??

But really though... is it me??

I don't understand how this is so difficult... um, maybe that would be because

IT ISN'T!!! THAT'S WHY!!!



I have a suggestion that perhaps some of you lurking bank managers might wish to employ...

I was thinking that these unfortunate intellectually-deprived banking customers may be in need of some assistance. Just a little help in moving things along... hopefully a little faster than molasses in January.. cuz, honestly?? The folks that I am referring to move like old people fuck, okay?!

Here is what I have in mind;

I thought that the banks might wish to employ some retired Drill Instructors who might be interested in making a few bucks on the side... to stand alongside each slowly moving ATM user... and, um... ASSIST that individual by offering some helpful hints, at a somewhat elevated volume, including such methods as calling the relative intelligence level, ancestry, appearance, hygenic habits, sexual proclivities, general competence, and personality of said customer into question... publicly... and graphically... while invading their personal space in an exceedingly intimidating manner...

I figure that while it may not actually speed things up, it may afford those of us who are forced to stand and watch for painfully long and unnecessary lengths of time at least a modicum of amusement.

Just a suggestion..

Having served as a Drill Sergeant and Senior Drill Sergeant, I would be happy to schedule an interview, and, I think I may be able to suggest some particularly well-qualified applicants...

That's me.. always trying to be of some small help!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Orgasm Soup

1 bag black eyes peas (dried)

1 48 oz can chicken broth
1 16 oz can chicken broth
1 16 oz can beef broth
Water - 2 48 oz canfuls
1 chicken (2 to 2½ lbs)whole
1 large yellow onion cut into sixths
2 turnips - peeled and cut into one inch cubes
1 parsnip - peeled and cut into ¼" to ½" cubes
5 red potatoes cut into thumbtip sized chunks
5 bay leaves
2 to 3 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons rosemary
3 pinches cumin

½ Lb Andouille sausage
olive oil
1 white onion - cut into dice-sized pieces
8 cloves garlic
1 bunch fresh spinach - wash and remove stems
1 package fresh mushrooms - cut into fingertip sized chunks
1 quarter cup of half & half

1 half head of green cabbage - slice into ½" strips
1 leek - carefully quarter lengthwise, wash thoroughly, ensuring all sand and dirt have been removed, then cut into 2" pieces.

1 16 oz can corn (kernels)- drained
1 16 oz can peas - drained

Soak black eyed peas in lukewarm water for 30 minutes, scooping out any chaff that floats to the top of the water. Gently scrub peas by agitating them with your hands. Drain and set aside.

Rinse chicken and place in a large soup pot (LARGE! ours is approximately 4 gallons)
Pour chicken broth, beef broth and water into pot, adding as much additional water as necessary to cover chicken under 2 to 3 inches of liquid, add turnips, yellow onion, parsnips, potatoes, bay leaves, salt, pepper, rosemary and cumin. Put on high heat and boil for 1 hour or until chicken meat is loose enough to easily pull from bones.

While chicken and vegetables are boiling, make a small 'boat' out of aluminum foil, peel garlic cloves, place in boat, drizzle with a small amount of olive oil, sprinkle with salt & pepper and broil until tops of garlic are slightly charred. Remove from oven, mince with a sharp knife, place back in aluminum foil boat, and set aside.

In a large frying pan, brown andouille sausage in olive oil, remove from pan, slice in half lengthwise, and cut into thumbtip sized chunks.

Cut white onion into similarly sized chunks as sausage, place both back into pan on medium to high heat, add garlic and simmer until onions caramelize and sausage is evenly browned on all sides.

Add spinach and simmer until spinach wilts.

Add mushrooms, stir so that mushrooms become completely coated with oil in pan, simmer until mushrooms begin to darken, and add half & half. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, add black eyed peas and two cups of the stock liquid. Boil for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Lower heat, cover, and simmer slowly for 5 to 10 minutes.

Remove chicken from cooking pot, place on a large cutting board, and, using two forks, pull chicken meat from bones, separating into bite sized chunks. Use caution - chicken will be very hot inside!! (bones and skin may be discarded).

Once chicken is removed from pot, add leeks and cabbage to the stock.

Boil stock at a rolling boil for 10 minutes or so, then add Andouille sausage/onion/garlic/spinach/mushroom/peas mixture to stock pot.

Add chicken meat to stock pot, along with corn and peas.

Stir until everything is thoroughly mixed, lower heat and cover. Simmer on low heat for 1 to 1½ hours, stirring once every 20 minutes or so.

Serve with buttered pumpernickel bread and enjoy!!

Serves one regimental sized unit or one small island nation.

Have fun!!

Awesome!!

We just got back from having Marcheline's tattoo done, and it is amazing!! Absolutely fantastic!! I really like it! Wow!!



.. and here it is!

Marcheline's design and concept initially, with bigtime kudos to Stacey Sharp of Ink Alternatives in Ronkonkoma, NY for the unbelievable skill and artistry!! She took Marcheline's design and really ran with it!

Friday, October 05, 2007

An INKling...

We are off in about two minutes to get a brand new tattoo for Marcheline!!

I will post pics when it is all done!

(This is my 5th Wedding Anniversary Present to her... she's the best wife anyone could ever hope for!!)

SeeYaBye!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Wood

Yesterday was our 5th Wedding Anniversary!! (The traditional gift is 'Wood' I have learned... I was curious to know whether the fifth anniversary was the 'linoleum anniversary' or the 'tin anniversary' or what.. well, it's wood. Wood is cool.)

I am thrilled to celebrate five years of a stupendously marvelous, wondrous, and unparalleled marriage! I couldn't find a better wife, lover, best-friend, confidant, teammate or partner if I were to search the entire world.. through all of time. I am the luckiest man alive.

We are actually celebrating our anniversary throughout this entire weekend.. and we are having, as always, a blast!!

I am ever so grateful to be who I am, where I am, and able to pass on this news!!

I am looking forward to many, many more anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, occasions, and just ordinary (even though none of our days are actually ordinary..) days spent with my gorgeous, sexy bride.

I could sit here and blog more... but I have a wife to be with.. so, I am outta here, like Vladimir!!

... till next time!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Smoothing out the Wrinkles



Some time ago, I requested that my teacher give me full ordination as a monk (I am currently a Sramenara ((also known as Samenara)) which is a novice monk.)

He told me that he would give it thought, and, after some period of time, met with me to discuss the issue, and decided to put the matter off for some months while he mulled it over and while he also paid close attention to my practice, analyzed my reasons for seeking such ordination, observed my general demeanor and level of understanding, etc., etc. All of the things that a Zen Priest and Teacher is supposed to do when confronted with such a request.

This past week, he sat down with me and advised me that he is willing to ordain me, once I have completed the requisite residency training. (I completed my residency training in a different order, but this doesn't translate or transfer directly over... I more or less had to start over, but the pace has been somewhat accelerated. )



Although I was eager to attend the training, even though it is quite difficult, I was confronted with a problem; I don't live in Asia any longer... and in this country there is no infrastructure whereby the monastic community receives material support from the laity. I have to work in order to support myself.

I was concerned that this may be a huge (read: 'insurmountable') obstacle in my path. But, a good Zen Cook takes what ingredients he has, and makes the best meal possible (as I have said in a previous post..).. and I went to my boss and asked if I could have the time off. After the screaming and yelling ended, I was more or less convinced that any possibility of getting time off from work was more or less non-existent.

When I relayed this to my teacher (perhaps hoping secretly that he would offer some other way for me to meet the prerequisites... um.. no dice! You gotta walk the walk.. and that's pretty much that... which, all things considered, is part of what makes it all worthwhile to me.), he nodded sagely, made an odd smile, and said, very quietly, "Keep trying."

So, I went home, sat down, and wrote a letter to my supervisor, the general manager, also addressing the letter to the office manager and to the president of the company.

I explained my reason for requesting the time off, what the training would consist of, who, what, where, why, and how... everything that I could think of that would help them to understand precisely what it was that I would be doing....

I wanted to make it clear that this wasn't a pretext to take a couple of days off... this won't be the easiest way to pass the time; quite the opposite, actually...



I explained in the letter that the person who would be presiding over the training may very well likely not be around to offer such training again; he is 100 years old, and it wouldn't be unreasonable to think that he may not be around for very much longer. Each day that he remains with us is a blessing, and a miracle.

I made it a point to simply leave the letter on my boss's chair, and to not pressure him in any way. I made no reference to it whatsoever.



I went into his office to confer with him on a project that I am working on, and he said to me, "Tell the office manager which days you will be taking off.."

Pleasantly surprised, I said, "Thank you!"

"How could I refuse this?? What? I'm gonna say 'no!' to this?? - Just go tell him what days you will need. We'll miss you while you are gone."

And that was that!

The next obstacle is a financial one... I am working on it, and waiting to hear what the results will be. If this problem is solved, I will be able to take the next step in my journey from warrior to priest.

It seems as though the way is being smoothed out for me by unseen forces... perhaps it is just the way things work out.. In any case, I have managed to come a lot further than I could have hoped.

When and if I am able to find out what the schedule will be like, providing I am able to obtain a syllabus, I will post it here... If not, I will post a fairly close approximation in order to give you an idea of what this type of training consists of...

Who knows? Within the next couple of years, I very well may be posting about my impending ordination!

I know that the road will become more and more difficult as I move along it... My teacher will expect me to take more and more responsibilities in the running of the center, and in doing the things that are expected of a fully ordained monk. He will test my understanding, my resolve, my patience, my endurance and stamina, and my resourcefulness.... and if he is convinced that my vocation is sincere, he will set a date for the ceremony.

If he has done his job properly, and if I have done mine, it will be much like my wedding in the sense that it will simply be a public declaration of something that is already present... something that is as much a part of me as my heart. Something from which I cannot be separated... much as the river cannot be separated from the ocean once it has flowed into it...

Now I must begin to prepare myself for the upcoming ordeal. I will have to work harder, solidify my practice, and learn not to cling to comforts. They will be in short supply for the duration....

But, this is what it means to be a monk!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Afterthought


My mom sent me a pair of semi-frantic emails, apologizing profusely for 'going off' on me. Apparently, she remembered that we had just spoken a few days prior, and I suppose she reconsidered the diatribe and felt that it was an unjust flaming after all.

I told her there were no worries... I don't particularly enjoy being 'gone off' on... but, well... she's my mom... and she's old... and I am sure that she must deal with a great deal of frustration, and a host of other things that create suffering, loss of dignity to some extent, not to mention loneliness and all of the other bits that come along with age and infirmity....

She lives very far away, and I know that she is feeling the pressure of time which makes the separation from family all the more difficult for her.

I find that it is mildly disturbing to me to see this note of near panic in my mom's personality. She has always been this sort of 'larger than life', powerful, domineering personality. As a parent, she was extremely stern and authoritative, (well, tyrannical would be slightly more honest...), as well as verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive/violent at times.. Which, I suspect, she must have perceived as a show of strength or something, presumably to seize and maintain control (Of us? Of life? Who knows?? In any case, control is an illusion, and trying to maintain it causes suffering for everybody...)

As I got older, I learned that I was stronger when I was gentle than when I tried to be 'tough' or confrontational... and I learned that I always had the power to excuse myself from contact with anyone. Including my mom.

I don't threaten or flaunt this power... but, on the occasions when I have little or no options - I simply fade away... and I am gone. And in this case, this is the sound of one hand clapping; silence!!

I felt, upon reading her email to me, that she feared that I would simply stop communicating with her, or perhaps close the routes of communication altogether..

.. and this saddens me for some reason.

I explained to her that I don't really attach to these situations or circumstances.. and that I had simply figured that we (she and I) had gotten our wires crossed for some reason, and that this mis-communication was the reason that she had gotten angry with me...

In any case, I set her mind at ease, and no harm done.

Except that it made me open my eyes to the fact that my mom is old, and lonely, and weak, and frightened.

And this is what is in store for most of us... (those who get themselves killed in other, more dramatic fashion, or at a younger age, are excused.)

Old age, failing health, and death. I am of the nature to suffer these things. I cannot escape it, and I cannot forestall it. There is no way to avoid it, nobody and/or nothing to fight, negotiate with, coerce, extort, or plead with..

There is nothing to do...

Nowhere to turn.

She will die. Everyone that I know will die. And I will die.

... Now. What do I do with that??

No religion, philosophy, or ideology has the answer... life cannot be 'solved'. It can only be lived... moment by moment.

Only by standing upon my own two feet, and by being a lamp unto myself rather than trying to depend on other sources for answers; and by cultivating a calm, nimble, non-attaching mind do I have any hope of being able to come to terms with these simple truths.

I find myself wondering how my Mom copes now... and how she will cope with whatever is to come in the future.

In this country, in our society, I find that nobody *ever* wants to consider that they are going to die... they run around, gathering things to keep; as though there is some attainable goal that will render one too wealthy to age or die. Or, on the other side of the equation, are the folks to try to calculate the exact distance that they can walk, run, or bike, and the number of 'healthy' foods that they must ingest, while avoiding a single teaspoon of ice cream throughout their entire life, that will keep them immortal and allow them to live forever.... but, this is nonsense, and we all know it on some level. There is nothing that is going to change the way things are. We are mortal. We live for some period of time... and then we die. And that, my friends, is that. There is no point in hurrying, because everyone's destination is the same... yes, some will say that we can prolong our life by being healthy, and I agree...

... but, the truth of the matter is that we are all just quibbling over a few short years, because, in the end... we are all going out 'feet first'. Period.

This isn't to say that I am a nihilist or pessimist or negative... because it isn't negative... it is simply the way it is. It is actually perfect just the way it is. The problem isn't that we die... the problem is complex, but, essentially, we expect that a reason for our life should be provided for us (we make our own reason, if a reason is needed at all.. ((I don't personally feel that I need a reason.. I am alive... that's all of it. The reason is sort of beside the point.)), and the other part of the problem is that we want to avoid death, and that we want our questions answered and our problems solved... but, there aren't any answers... there aren't any solutions, and we can want to avoid death every moment of our lives, and we will still be dead and as an added bonus, we will have squandered the time we had worrying about something that is unavoidable.

I guess the major question that springs to my mind is not 'How can I avoid dying?' - because that's, well, sort of ridiculous... because I can't. What is most important is what happens right now??! How do I live?! How do I do my utmost at whatever I happen to be doing.. in each and every moment, as it takes place??

How do I improve my life RIGHT NOW?

How do I become a better person NOW?

How do I respond correctly to each situation AS IT OCCURS?

How do I help others in the way that they most require my help - NOW?

How do I help my mom??

I think I helped a little... I doubt that she considers very much more that what she wants at the moment.. and that is for all of her family to be gathered around her in her last days.

Unfortunately, I don't see how that can work out... Visits, perhaps... but, like everything else, they are impermanent, and, in my experience, are spent almost entirely discussing when the next visit will be and how it will be arranged, and what we will do, and what we will say, and who else can make it, etc., etc.

I thought that this was peculiar at the time... but when I pay close attention to how people behave in their day to day lives (and I do, by the way... very, very close attention...), I realize that everyone does this very same thing to some extent.

Instead of being alive fully and completely no matter what they happen to be doing, so many people defer living until 'this' happens, or 'that' happens.

The problem is that 'this' and 'that' are only words... and they will only ever be accessible in the present moment. The present moment is when everything and everyone is accessible to us. And one day they will all be gone... people, things, and moments alike. Because when you are gone... the universe goes with you.

I would like to see my Mom wake up and learn to live in the present moment. I would like to see her become like a Zen Cook, who doesn't complain about the ingredients that he doesn't have, but who takes stock of what he does have, cleans the kitchen, and sets about preparing the most nutritious and delicious meal that is possible with the ingredients at hand.

Life happens NOW. There isn't any time for indulging in anger, or bitterness, or frustration.

The way is to simply take what life unfolds before you, and do the very best that you can with it, while still remaining divorced from any expectation or hope for the outcome. In this way however things turn out... they are exactly right... because they are exactly how they are... and that 'suchness' is precisely what it happens to be - and you can't get more perfect than that!!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Facing a New Week...



Friday I missed work; I had been up all night with fierce stomach cramps and some other adventures that needn't be expounded upon... suffice it to say that I was not fit to leave the house for any reason of less import than fleeing a fire or some other life-threatening reason.

I felt marginally better Friday evening... and by Saturday felt more or less human. This was fortunate, since Saturday was my wife and my 'Eclipse Anniversary' which I wouldn't want to miss...

Today we woke up and ground some fresh coffee-beans and while listening to 'Sunday Baroque' on NPR enjoyed our coffee in the garden while we played a couple of games of chess with Jack (the outside cat) at our feet.

Afterwards, we sat quietly and just enjoyed the morning. I was watching what was quite possibly one of the largest dragonflies I had ever seen in all of my life as it alternately perched on a limb at the top of a tree in the neighbor's yard two houses away... the tree is perhaps 80 to 100 feet tall.. (I told you it was a huge dragonfly!! -- we are estimating ((well.. guesstimating, really... but still... we are fairly close, I think...)) that it had to have been about 10" to a foot long from wingtip to wingtip... so, even if we are inadvertently exaggerating, and you take away the 2" extra resulting from the 'Holy shit!' factor... it is still a monster of a bug!! -- as I had been saying, I was watching it as it would perch on the top of a huge Catawba tree... and then it would take off and fly around up there, presumably hunting for breakfast... and then, I guess when it caught something it would return to its perch and munch away... I was getting more and more blown away as it became apparent that its size wasn't the result of an optical illusion... it was just BIG!! Birds would fly very close to it at times, and that let me guess its size relative to them... I also wondered what went through their pea-brains when they got a look at this fella sitting up there contentedly munching away on water buffalo or draft horses or whatever the hell it eats!!

While we were looking at the dragonfly, the birds, and the various butterflies that popped by to inspect the flowers or play in the mist from the sprinklers, we saw another creature that sort of defies description; The closest thing that it resembled was something half way between a moth, and a bat. It had a sort of wedge-shaped body, or was carrying something... I couldn't really tell (I was sort of caught by surprise by the sight of this thing, to be honest....), and wings that resembled the wings of a Leonardo DaVinci Flying Machine... with a curved front surface and a sort of membranous trailing edge. The body was very dark in color, and the wings were a reddish-sorta-burnt-orange in color. It didn't do a great deal of flapping... more gliding... with a very occasional lazy flap every so often. The body looked as though it was hanging from the wings more than between them, which is what made me wonder if whatever the heck it was was carrying something. It flew by in one direction, went behind some trees, and then flew back out again before flying off... so I only really got a couple of glimpses of it for perhaps eight to ten seconds in total. After it had gone, I sort of just sat there, mystified, trying to make what I had seen gel with some creature in my mental catalog of living things... and I couldn't. Has anybody else seen anything that sounds like what I have described??

After sitting in our garden for a while, I made a salad, and we ate in companionable silence before heading up to the Zen Garden to weed and harvest altar flowers, and then over to the Zen Center to trim and rake and sweep and clean. We watered whatever needed watering, straightened and neatened, and put away dishes and cups and whatever other doo-dads needed puttin' away... and then, after a brief stop to pick up a cold drink for each of us, headed towards home, stopping to do some grocery shopping on the way.

Marcheline made some of her ass-kicking salsa when we got home, and we watched a DVD together and ate chips and salsa. It was a nice peaceful evening.

Until.

My mom called and left a message on my voicemail sort of hammering me because she 'hasn't been able to get in touch with me for over six weeks' -- which sounds like a legitimate complaint, except for the fact that I spoke with her just this past week. So, what do I do with that?? I'm not going to tell her that we just spoke last week and make her feel like an ass... so I suppose when I talk to her, I will just let her rail at me and tell her that I will do my best not to let it happen again.

She said "That's a very long time and is unacceptable... even for a monk!!"

This seems to be the angle that anyone and everyone who ever gets annoyed or angry with me takes; they play the 'monk' card. As in, "You know... I thought monks were supposed to be.... [insert favorite characteristic of the moment here], or, "if this monk thing doesn't help you to be [flavor of the month again] I don't see what good it is."

Monks are 'supposed' to be like the monks that one sees on television and in the movies. It's all 'grasshopper this' and 'grasshopper that' -- smiles and doing whatever it takes to make everyone feel however they would like to be made to feel at any given moment.

Well..... Wrong.

Monks feel anger, and they fart, and they eat, and they sometimes feel that it is a responsibility to break someone away from their attachments and from their views.

And some people don't like this... wrong views and faulty perceptions cause suffering. Attachments cause suffering. Facing reality is not always so easy.

In Korea there is a proverb that translates to approximately; "Garbage people become monks, garbage monks become Zen monks, garbage Zen monks become Buddha..."

This means that fundamentally, those human beings who have a mystical or monastic calling are most often dissatisfied with society as they see it, perceive it, or experience it... and wish to follow a path that will allow them to perceive truth, or reality, or what some would term the divine, or god, or GOD or what have you....

This dissatisfaction most often results in these people being perceived as being somehow odd, different, strange, or separate from 'the rest of us' in some way by most people with whom they come into contact.

Initially, the monastic experience then separates these individuals even further from society... in some cases this is permanent... so, taking the robe and the bowl is, in effect, entering the coffin... dying to the world... and extinguishing the notion of a separate self. In many cases, at least among Zen Monastics, this period of separation comes to an end, and the Zen Monk is expected to return to society and to engage the world... sometimes as a Priest or monk, sometimes as a 'civilian' who is not recognizable in any outward way as a monk... or as a former monk... (though recognizably different to those who perhaps come to know these individuals...)

It is not the function of a monk to prop up or to support whatever perception, notion, belief, illusion, or what have you that somebody may hold... it is the function of a monk to hold up a mirror to that person, and to help them to experience reality through their own experience.... and, at times, this experience may not be the most pleasant experience.... life is difficult, life is confusing, and life throws us curves... it cannot be 'solved', there isn't an 'answer' and monks don't always behave in a set pattern. So... to those of you who feel that I should meet or approximate whatever belief you may hold regarding my vocation, I suppose I have to say this; Insomuch as I adhere to the precepts of my order, the direction of my teacher, and my own personal judgment of what is true function in any given circumstance or situation... that is *precisely* how a monk acts!! If you were expecting something else, the problem may very well be with your expectation.

In those cases where the problem is with my behavior, I offer this; If I were already perfect, I would not feel any need to submit myself or to devote myself to the harsh discipline of a monastic lifestyle. I am a simple monk struggling to learn what I can and deepen my practice.... not a saint, not a god, and certainly not enlightened in any way, shape or form.

I don't have the answers... I don't even have the questions!!

So... to my mom, when you cannot get in touch with me when you would like, it probably doesn't have anything whatsoever to do with my monastic practice, unless I happen to be engaged specifically in that practice when you are trying to contact me, in which case I am a very good monk indeed.... but more with the fact that life happens... and it unfolds to each of us in whatever fashion it happens to take.... and we have to respond to that... so, unfortunately, I am not always available to answer the telephone, or to pick one up to call.... this is not indicative of disrespect or a lack of love on my part... it just means that time is a finite resource, and that perhaps I am not so great at managing it.

For those who ask me 'Monk Questions' and then get pissed off at me when I don't give the answer you wanted... all I can do is respond in the best way I am able.

Q: "Why am I here?"

A: "On Long Island?? I thought you lived here?"

Q: "NO!! Why am I alive... on earth!!?? Does life have a purpose?? Why am I HERE??!"

A: Well... to this sort of question, all I can really do by way of response, is to ask a question of my own; "Are you REALLY here??".

It sounds as though I am being a wise ass... but I am not. If you are here... REALLY here... in the present moment... which is the only moment that is ever available to you.... this is not a question that bears answering. Go drink some tea! Wash your cup! Look at the clouds in the sky!

As to the other big question, "What happens when I die?" -- well, that is a question that will answer itself in time... but my question is, "What happens RIGHT NOW while you are alive??"

No ideology has the answers, folks... life is a process that we take with each breath.... I am not the same person at this moment that I was when I began to write this sentence... but, nothing has been lost.... I don't exist... but here I am!! My experience is not your experience... I cannot give anyone answers to these questions...

If you were to come to me and ask me to serve you tea, but you had no cup... I couldn't serve you tea by pouring it directly into your open mouth, or into your hands... the tea would scald you and it would ruin the floor mats or the carpet...

You would need a cup before I could serve you.... and in any case, I couldn't tell you how the tea tastes... you would have to have a cup, and then you would have to drink your tea!!

In the same way, I cannot give answers to questions.... I can only help you to find a cup... and then I can serve you some tea...


... You have to drink it yourself.


Now I have to go to sleep... tommorrow starts a new week.... and there will be a lot of tea to drink!!

Go get yourself a cup!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Eclipse Anniversary


My wife and I celebrate two anniversaries: Our wedding anniversary, and the anniversary of our first date, upon which we became a couple... and have remained so, quite happily, for eight years as of today!!

The night of our first date happened to be the night of the last eclipse of the millennium... so we refer to it as our 'Eclipse Anniversary'. It was the night of the last eclipse of the 20th century... and of our first kiss as a couple.

There have been many kisses since that night... many hugs... many dreams shared, and many that have been made to come true. We have cooked and enjoyed countless meals... laughed more than I can even manage to convey... and have come to know one another more intimately than most people ever do, I think... In many cases, I have heard that this results in contempt between people... but, in our case it has made us love and respect one another more and more deeply as the years have passed and we have been privileged to see one another's character shine through when it counted.

The past eight years have been the happiest and the best of my life... I have learned what really matters... I have learned to give... and I have learned to accept. I have learned what it is to truly have a friend; a very best friend.
We have been through difficulties that would have crushed most relationships... and, I am sure, has... many times. We have faced adversaries, faced defeat, and faced fear together... we have lived, loved, persevered, and triumphed together.

When nobody saw the good in me... she stood by my side, took my hand in hers... and gave me her heart to safeguard. When others turned their backs... she took me in her arms.

When I had nothing.. she gave me everything... and she continues to give each and every day.

I have learned about strength and gentleness from her... I have learned that being in love isn't something in a movie or in a book... it's not only what you are and what you do... but how you face each moment side by side.. I have learned that we are much more as a couple than we are individually... and I have learned that there is someone in this world that loves me so fiercely that I can I can feel it in my chest when I wake beside her in the middle of the night... and that when I let myself think about it... I can hardly breathe.

When I get knocked flat, she helps me to fly... and when my head is in the clouds, she grabs me and places my feet firmly back on solid earth.

I have learned that there is not a smile anywhere in all of the world that can light up a room like hers does... that are no hands that can work so hard, create such beauty, and bring such pleasure as hers do... no eyes that are so endlessly deep or that dance and glitter with as much mischief and mirth as her eyes do...

I have learned that there isn't another woman in all of time that I could ever love as deeply as I do this one....

She is beautiful to me... unpredictable as lightning... mysterious, amazing, fey, wondrous, and magickal...

And today I am ever so grateful that of all of the guys in the world...

... she chose me!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Snapping Back to Reality

Sometimes events transpire to take place in just such a way that they serve to give you a sharp slap in the face, and, probably for the best of all concerned, snap you back to reality.

It is curious how we form our very own bubble of perception that we carry around with us... when the world, 'just as it is', is right there all the time.

Makes me wonder how I could have been wandering around in a fog for so long...

Well... everything is *exactly* what it is... just like that!!

Why have I been carrying all this nonsense around in my head for all this time??

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Bear's 'Peculiar Family Habits' Vol. I

I am of a somewhat strange ancestry... though 'strange' may be a misnomer; at least in the United States where many of us have rather... ahh... interesting ancestral backgrounds.

On my dad's side, not so strange; Scottish on his mom's side, and Scottish on his dad's side... all the way back. Scottish. Period.

On my mom's side, though;

My mom's dad was Scottish, English, and Chinese (That ancestor's name was Chen En-Yeng, who was an immigrant to Jamaica).

My mom's mom (my grandmother who you may recognize as 'Nana' in some of my previous posts... Nana more or less raised me..) was Scottish and Welsh on her father's side - her dad was supposedly an illegitimate heir, on his mother's side, of Henry Morgan (of the 'Spiced Rum' fame... who also happened to have been a Welsh soldier who fought in the English Civil War, showed up in the West Indies, and became a pirate, later a privateer, and then Governor of Jamaica -- the usual disclaimer applies here, as this may be total and unadulterated bullshit.. but, that's the story as it was told to me... so who am I to go against the grain?), and on her mom's side claimed Irish (heir to the Earl of Ros common, supposedly... this one is actually true, and documented... but it isn't the kind of hear that ever actually inherits anything, thankfully... no worries about anyone plotting to poison me for my title!), Cornish.. (there were rumblings about the Duke of Devonshire.. I know that one existed, but I have never been able to find a concrete connection...), and Rroma (Gypsy) - this is sort of cool, except for the fact that in Rroma culture, when you marry a Gadje or outsider, you are expelled, ousted, given the boot... ostracized, as it were... and are no longer considered a Gypsy (so now I don't have to tell fortunes or steal or be oppressed, so I'm in luck!), Arawak Indian, and most likely African.

My grandmother was born in Jamaica, the West Indies... when it was still a British Colony, and came here when she was an adult. My Dad was born here, but his folks came over on the boat...

The man who I call my grandfather (Nana's husband; 'Pop') is actually no blood relation, having married into the family after my mom was born. My moms dad was an admiral in the Navy, and though I knew him, he wasn't really a big part of my life. Pop, however, raised me, more or less... to the extent that I took his name so that he would have an heir.

Now... as to the title of this post.

Some of the habits, traditions, superstitions, and other peculiarities of my family.

My grandfather wouldn't let you throw anything out. If you did, he brought it back, claiming that it was still good. If you tossed out moldy bread, he would bring it back, eat it... gagging the entire family... while proclaiming through a mouthful of green mold, "Penicillin!! Good!!" - Ack!!

When we drove past cemeteries, my grandmother would insist that everyone in the vehicle 'hold their buttons'.

My mom had a thing about us answering her from another room... she would call out a question from wherever she was... but if we had the temerity to yell out the answer, say 'What?!' or 'Huh?!' or even 'I'll be right there!' - we got our faces slapped through the back of our heads. If we didn't answer her and didn't arrive at her location instantly, on the other hand... we also got the shit slapped out of us. So it was a toss up, I guess....

My brother (the middle one) would fight with anyone, anywhere, under any circumstances... for any or for no reason... whether he (or they) needed it or not... This penchant has gotten his, and my asses kicked numerous times... once he cut the electric cord of the telvision.. with a pair of metal scissors.. because my mom changed the channel from a show that he sort of wanted to watch. He is arguably.. to this very day... one of the most stubborn people I have ever known. If not the most stubborn. I'm next in line..

You had to go out the same door you came in.

No hats on in the house. Or on the table.

No opening umbrellas.

No whistling in the house.

You couldn't cover a photo of a dead person.

My grandfather hated the concept of 'soaking' dishes... and would raise holy hell whenever my grandmother did that... which was basically every day.

My grandmother dressed to kill... and cooked the same way. She drove that way, too... but didn't know it... or at least didn't admit it.

A conversation regarding my grandmother's driving:

Nana: "I can drive on the side of a mountain!"

My Uncle: "Yeah. .... It's the roads that you have a hard time with."

My grandfather didn't go anywhere with the whole family. No vacations. No outings. No restaurants. Nothing. He would go out with any one of us at a time... but not with more than one. I have no idea why.

My grandfather and his entire family were Gaelic speakers. They would not, however, speak Gaelic outside of the house/family. Even to other Gaelic speakers. Whenever I asked about this, I would be 'shoosh!'ed.

If we got lost, everyone had to get out of the car and put something on inside out.

Every time the family got together, there was a big fight. With tables getting overturned and somebody bleeding.

My mom is terrified of the water.

We used to have proper 'tea'... much to the amusement of my friends...

My grandmother's cousin fought in WWI in the Canadian Army (He emigrated from Jamaica to Canada) and wrote a book about it, entitled "Private Peat". It was a best seller in its day.

My cousin wrote a book that was loosely based on our family history, entitled "Abeng". She has written quite a lot of books, actually. She is now estranged from the family because her parents passed judgment on her and gave her a hell of a time because of her sexual preference. This makes me sad. I don't care what her preferences are, so long as she is loved, and happy. Now I have no contact with her at all over this nonsense...

My grandmother was terrified of birds... but kept a few as pets for as long as I knew her. When my grandfather died, she insisted that he had become a seagull. This was disturbing to all of us.

My grandfather never once missed a day of school in his life, and never missed a day of work unless he was in the hospital. Once he was pronounced dead, but woke up and lived another eighteen years or so! He used to carry his obituary around in his pocket.

My grandmother died in a fall down a flight of stairs while out drinking with her friends to celebrate a clean bill of health from the doctor.

My granmother would send me entire letters in which she would discuss people that I had never in the whole of my life ever heard of... but she would discuss them as though I was supposed to know precisely who they were.

My brother, the middle one, was terrified of grass as a baby. (Happily, he grew out of it... and probably smoked most of it through his teens and twenties...)

My other brother, the youngest one, won't drive. He was a passenger in a motor vehicle accident in which his best friend, who was driving the car, was killed. The family blamed my brother on their son's death (unfairly, as far as I can see...), and he has never driven since then.

My grandmother's sister once had a tiger cub for a pet. When it started to knock her down, she gave it to a zoo. When she died, her son, who still lived with her, 'guarded' her body for days. When my mother and grandmother went to the house after not getting a response on the phone, he kept them hostage with a crossbow for a few hours... finally, they talked their way out of there and had him committed, and her buried.... ... okay.. that's weird.

My grandmother once told me a story that my mom, while living alone in an apartment before I was born, once got up out of bed to go to the bathroom, turned around, and saw herself still asleep in the bed. This scared the living crap out of her, and she fled the apartment and ran to a tavern either down stairs, or down the street, or at least somewhere within 'fleeing' distance... when the tavern owner returned to the apartment with her, the 'other' mom had apparently gotten up and left... though, knowing how long my mom took to get ready, I don't see how this could be possible... even if she was an infernal creature at the time. That happens to be the scary part of that story, as far as I'm concerned!

I remember eating 'chicken delight' with my grandmother while we watched the workmen working on the Verrazzano Narrows bridge.

My grandmother put on a show at the 65-65 World's Fair, and we used to go there every day when I was very small.

My grandmother used to talk to her plants. In response, they grew to unbridled sizes and shapes. We lived in a place that was dubbed 'The Congo' by the rest of the family. She could pick up a twig off of the ground and make it grow.

We had a cat, named 'Jego' who absconded from the vehicle while we were on the way back to Staten Island, NY from Rhode Island. We were actually still in Rhode Island, and had just visited, at my grandmother's insistence, the grave of a purported Gypsy Princess, or Queen, or somesuch piffle... and the cat shot out of the vehicle and headed off to parts unknown on foot. After five or six hours of looking, searching, crying, calling, and waiting... we sadly packed back into the old Valiant and headed home. A year later, Jego showed up at the door, still wearing his name tag.

My grandfather slept with all of the bedroom windows open, under only a sheet... no matter what time of year it was.

My brother -- yes, the 'middle one' -- could hit just about anything with a thrown object. You could be running through trees, and he could pick up a fallen crab apple, a monkey orange, or a rock, and nail you in the head with it while you were tearing along at full-tilt.

I eat my food one thing at a time. Everybody goes to great pains to patiently explain to me, as though to a drooling idiot, that all of the food will be subsequently mixed together in my stomach. (Thanks for that... in which case I fail to see what the big hurry is to mix it!)

My grandfather hated to see people take a drink of anything while they were eating. "Don't wash down your food!" -- Well... why the hell not?? If it's my food why can't I do what I like with it??!

My mom had a method of interrogating us where she would unfailingly catch us in a lie... particularly when we were telling the absolute truth. This was a tough one.

If, while she was beating the crap out of us, we cried.. she would accuse us of being 'pansies' 'petunias' and 'marys' -- and beat us all the harder.

If, while she was beating the crap out of us, we simply took the beating, and failed to cry, or otherwise show signs of discomfort, she would accuse us of being obstinate, stubborn, and defiant -- and beat us all the harder.

In my family, we use words like 'jook', 'weeber', 'feshivle', 'facokted', 'battyman', 'duppy', 'wunna', 'stramash', 'muckle', 'sasanach', and 'vex'.

I was told as a child that there was a creature who lived in the refrigerator, called a 'Hootie', and that it was this creature who turned the light on when you opened the fridge door.

We used to leave bowls of milk out for the 'good neighbors', also known as the 'gentry' or the 'wee people'. The milk was always gone the next day.

My grandmother used to insist that if you broke an egg into a glass of water at exactly noon on Good Friday, the shape of a large cross flanked by two smaller crosses would be formed by the egg (white? yolk? -- the egg-goo anyway...)

No matter how many times we did this to prove that it was a big pile of horseshit, she would still insist that it was true.

It was only after about ten or fifteen years after her death that it finally dawned on me that she was having us on the whole time, and probably having a good laugh about the whole thing!!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Plans & Specs



The licensing process for the Real Estate thing has turned out to be a major pain in the ass taken on a life of its own, it would seem, and so far, nothing is happening; and I have no say regarding the time frame... so, as it turns out, all I can do is to wait and see what happens.

The rub is that the Broker who was sponsoring me decided that the process was taking much longer than he had anticipated, and that he was no longer willing to continue to pay me under the circumstances. This is understandable, actually... as a brokerage is not really set up to carry any body's weight, financially - the idea being that each agent brings in their own business, and that the brokerage takes a cut of that business (read: "The Lion's Share") in return for providing the resources to see the deal through to a successful completion..

This doesn't mean that the Real Estate thing is in the bin, just that it is on indefinite hold until the licensing situation goes through whatever permutations it must go through and a license mysteriously arrives in the mail one day... perhaps... If I am lucky....



In the meantime, I find it necessary to be able to earn a living... for, even though I am a monk, and, as such, not overly focused upon the more material side of things; I still must have a place to live, food to eat, and clothing to wear... and however humble those necessities may be, they still cost money. So.. I must work.

In Asia, there is an infrastructure in place that took form over centuries whereby the lay community and the monastic community support one another... the monastic community provides support in the form of both spiritual guidance and leadership, and in the less abstract form of manual labor when required. In return, the lay community provides support in the form of donated food, cloth, and medicine. In this country, this arrangement does not exist.. so, it is up to the individual monastic community to decide how to handle this situation. In our case, we work.. plain and simple. So, after a fashion, I have one foot in the monastic community, and one foot in the world.. which situation offers its very own particular set of benefits and obstacles.. but that is for another post.



I took a job as an "Architectural Estimator" for a manufacturing company. I described my scintillating interview technique in an earlier post entitled "Presence" whereby I simply sat there... like a bump on a log... and essentially said nothing at all of any value or substance... and got a job offer!! (Go figure!)



The job is 9AM to 5PM - Monday through Friday.. holidays off... with full medical benefits after three months... which isn't so bad! (I don't know the whys and wherefores of the benefits yet... it may very well turn out to suck very badly.. but I will cross that bridge when I come to it... from what I have been given to understand, however, it is not at all a bad arrangement.) My office is perhaps 10 to 15 minutes from my house... and the people are relatively nice... meaning that they basically leave me to my own devices; which I like.



My job is to receive requests for price quotes from material distributors, architects, and contractors; primarily for projects that involve public money, and are being bid on.

I receive a packet of product and material specifications.. and usually a set of blueprints, or plans... or simply a set of CAD drawings.

What I have to do is to read these documents, analyze them, and determine what, specifically -- both quantitatively and qualitatively -- the client requires for the project, and to then come up with a price that they can then use to come up with a bid estimate. If the bid is successful, we get the contract. This can range from a single item of less than one hundred dollars... to a contract involving millions of dollars...



The plans and specs are not always very clear in either content or meaning.. and in some cases, I am learning... a single word can completely change the meaning of the entire document! Miss that one word, and you have cost both the client, and your company a great deal of money! So.. attention to detail, and the ability to focus, despite endless interruptions, and all of the other workday distractions that crop up regularly. The upside of this is that I basically can show up, start working on my pile of 'stuff', and continue on with it until it is time to pack up and go home. And nobody bothers me!



I work in a cubicle, which I realize most people absolutely hate but, strangely, I actually like my cubicle.. (I know.. it's sort of pathetic... but, nevertheless...)

My wife gave me a plant to bring in to work with me... which I did... and it brightens the place up quite a bit! Over time, I will probably bring in other little doo-dads that will serve to lessen that certain impersonal ambiance that most cubicles have... I just don't want to rush in to things... even carrying in a plant, and my 'magnet ring' (I have a ring shaped magnet that came out of a motor or something... I have used it over the years as a paper clip holder... don't ask...) made me feel as though I looked like I was 'moving in'... which is sort of weird.



In any case, I like this job. It is somewhat tedious.. but you have to stay on your toes, otherwise you may end up having a conversation that entails providing an explanation to someone in authority regarding the six million dollars that they are no longer able to count on... and I do not wish to be party to such a conversation.

My training... or something.... consisted of about 15 minutes of a loose explanation followed by the recounting of the most recent historical fuck-ups made by my predecessors... and then I was sent off to sink or swim.

I have no experience in this sort of thing whatsoever... but, so far I am managing to hold my own. I learn a great deal each day... and hopefully I will catch on in due time.

On other fronts, I sort of feel like "The Omega Monk" - as everyone in the local Sangha (monastic community) is off in New Mexico for an extended retreat. I am the stay behind who is responsible for the running and the upkeep of the Zen Center. Well.. one other person has recently returned, so I suppose that isn't the case any longer in the strictest sense... but, for now, it is sort of quiet. We have the occasional lay person who shows up, but for the most part it has been exceedingly quiet... which is actually kind of nice!

We have gotten hit with quite a few instances of health related issues amongst our various relations... which tends to raise the stress level and put a bit of a damper on things since we are worried about our loved ones. What makes this particularly difficult is that there isn't a blessed thing that we can do to help. So.. we simply wait to hear whatever news is forthcoming. My wife is on her way right now to visit her father who was admitted to the hospital last night... we don't really know the full significance of this... but I suppose we will know in due course. I'm not sure whether this is good or bad.

Life takes its twists and turns, and carries us along with it... so I suppose that all we can do is try to roll with it and make out as best we can...

Not the most comforting advice.. but, probably truthful.

It is very warm here today... and quite humid. We sat on our patio this morning, drinking our coffee and watching the new crop of fledgling sparrows hurling themselves about as they try to learn to fly and land and take off and do all the things they must be able to do to be a fully qualified sparrow. They were making us laugh! Some of the little con artists still try to beg food from their parents by fluttering and opening their mouths... sometimes they get food, and sometimes they get a cuff about the head.. but I suppose its worth the try!

Well... thats pretty much the update, as far as I am concerned. I have a couple hours of solitude, and then I'm off to work!