The 163 States of Compassion

“The silence of sitting will tell you everything you need to know.”

It was the kind of fortune-cookie bullshit you hear a lot of at Zen meditation retreats offered in Northern California by Northern Californians. Actually, that’s not fair. You get that kind of bullshit in Portland or Seattle or Denver or New York too, but this dose of bullshit was the first cohesive collection of words I’d heard in what felt like forever – and it wasn’t helping.

There’s this point in an intensive meditation retreat where you’ve been actively concentrating on your breathing and your posture and how your knees are now made of concrete and that the small of your back is the all-consuming heart of a great vortex of pain that is actually absorbing the pain from all living beings for hundreds of miles around you and compressing it into a perfect symphony of agony composed in a language of utter suffering that you will sing through clenched teeth until you finally embrace the sweet release of death.

I had passed that point something like a lifetime (or at least forty-five minutes) ago, and what I was not prepared for was a lesson on sitting in silence. I was ready to flex my legs, stand up, bend backwards until I cracked my back like a machine gun, and then reconsider the life choices that had led me to think a three-day retreat in the middle of nowhere between Ukiah and Clear Lake California was “exactly what I needed.”

Truth be told, I had no idea what I needed.

Zen and the art of divorce and self-discovery after the cut…

What a pain in the…chest

Enough time has passed that I’m no longer completely freaked out by this, so I’ll explain in some detail what I meant in my recent update by “heart attack.”

By which I meant that I had a heart attack. Like, in my heart.

Let’s start by hopping into the Way-Back Machine and going to a little time I like to call “the week after my birthday, on a Tuesday night in mid-April.” Or something. Anyway, let’s set the scene: It’s after midnight, we’re in bed, the lights are off, two dogs are snoring on each side of us which fills the room with the white-noise of safety, and I’m asleep.

I find myself being pulled out of my dream state by an incredible sense of generally decentralized pressure. As I’m coming to, my sleep-addled brain draws the conclusion that Roxanne, our 120 pound Great Dane, has climbed onto the bed and is attempting to sleep on my chest. I thrash about a bit as I try to push her off, only to discover that she wasn’t on me, or the bed, or even my side of the room…in point of fact she was on her own bed in the corner, and probably looking at me like I was insane.

Then I decide that I must have become wrapped up and bound in the comforter. Amy refers to this phenomenon as “being burritoed” and has accused me of doing this to her on purpose in the past, so obviously she was trying to get some kind of explanatory revenge…except that the comforter was in a wad down under my knees.

At this point I came to the only remaining logical conclusion: our mattress was possessed by a poltergeist…

Everything you ever wanted to know about diagnosing Congestive Heart Failure from the patient perspective…

An Ode to London

I love it when new people show up and comment. Regular readers know that I try to answer every comment, and sometimes I’m a bit ridiculous with the length of my responses. On my last post new commenter Bernadette Coley asked “Tell me why you love London so much? (So do I, but everybody’s London is different)” and I dashed off a response between conference calls this morning. It was such a perfect question that several people have asked if I would move my response to its own post so they could comment on it directly. FULL CREDIT to Bernadette for asking a really great question on a Monday morning.

“Everybody’s London is different” is the truest thing I’ve read in days. Why do I love London? Because in my heart she is my city and I will always belong a bit to her.

My love letter to my favorite city below the cut…

Quick Update

So, this is where I would typically put up a maudlin recap of how I feel after taking Sarah to the airport and comforting her as she cried because she didn’t want to leave. I spent three days in a pretty deep funk, and I’m doing my best to climb out of it, but I’ll admit it’s been a tough week.

I’ve been watching a lot of Olympics coverage. I’ve loved the Olympics for nearly as long as I can remember, and I actually know exactly why.

A brief explanation of Olympics Fever and current events in my life…

Repost: How Sweet Life Is

I’m actively making plans to finish the “What I’m Looking For” series, and I realized that there are a couple of posts still up on Dead Charming that need to be over here so I can refer back to them at the appropriate time. Also, I promised my mother that I’d post this one somewhere she could go and find it, so this repost serves double duty.

This is the first piece of non-fiction I ever seriously tried to write, and honestly without this I would have never started blogging. It is, in its essence, the first blog post I ever wrote. Much of the premise behind My Bad Pants is derived from my thought process when I wrote this and how I felt about it after I stood up and read it at a funeral.

What follows is the first thing I ever wrote that I was proud of writing…


Sometimes I write something and I get a reaction that surprises me. Sometimes I’m simply surprised a long time later when someone remembers or comments on one of my past posts months (or even years) later. Sometimes I surprise myself by reaching out to someone who’s writing has evoked strong reactions in me.

In the last six months I’ve had one of each of these.

Last fall I wrote up a personal review of how Catherynne Valente’s Faryland stories had affected me and how I had come to feel about them. I hit publish, and I fully expected to hear a couple of responses from my regular readers and that’s it. Instead the review got linked by a couple of Sci-Fi/Fantasy aggregators and linked on a couple of twitter feeds, about five hundred people stopped by to read it, and it resulted in the following:


I can honestly say that I had no expectation of ever writing something that the author of the book would ever see. I was honored that it affected her, and I spent about 48 hours walking about six feet off the ground.

On a more personal level, I’ve written about someone I grew up with and who was personally, emotionally, and romantically significant to me during my school years. I changed names, I protected the innocent, and I used to write under a reasonable vale of anonymity. Anonymity and Facebook are not friends. I’ve had several posts end up connected back to my Facebook profile in the last few months, and through a chain of events that person arrived here. And read everything.

And then sent me an email on Facebook.

Without betraying a confidence, I will say that the last thing she said was “but you should know I have never thought of you as ‘that weird kid I grew up with'”.

Which almost made me cry. Years later, years after first putting how I have always felt into words…finally something redeeming came out of that exercise. I carry plenty of demons around in my personal closet of dark-things-that-lurk-in-the-night; but now I carry one less.

The experience has deeply inspired me to return to writing about things from my own past, even if I find the writing uncomfortable. So the “What I’m Looking For” series once again has a chance at actually seeing completion.

Finally, I “manned up” a week ago and sent a fan letter of sorts to a blogger that I really admire and who moves me almost every time he posts. And to my complete shock, on my birthday, he emailed me back. He had encouraging words, he let me know he’d stopped by my own little outpost of creativity and liked what he read, and asked if there was more to come. And that was the final kick in the pants.

Yes. There is more to come.

[Word Count: 475]

Moneyball, California Dreaming, and Editing in Public is Hard

I spent the majority of last week in San Francisco at an annual corporate training / team-building / liver-decimation exercise. It’s the only time each year that they bring together the consultants from all the regions and branches of Indirect Tax, and while the training sessions were particularly useful and informative this year, what it really represents is a chance for a very decentralized team (about 50 people from four continents) to gather together as a group and renew the personal connections that allow us to rely on each other at two in the morning when the proverbial shit and the metaphorical fan become a lot less proverbial and metaphorical. The latter is accomplished with structured activities, face-to-face time, conversations over dinners, a few war stories between Type-A personalities, and an open bar.

While “what happens in Frisco STAYS in Frisco” I will share the following sequence of Wednesday night texts from a good friend and colleague of almost five years, unedited:

ME: Did we lose you?
HIM: Jiffy saute g’day HDTV
HIM: Sarah heftier jiggly
HIM: Fuck
HIM: Tree grey hoots
HIM: Fucjir I can’t tyie
ME: Where the HELL are you man??? That looks like a serious good time in progress!!!

I’m not going to lie, “Sarah heftier jiggly” became something of a theme and a mantra for the rest of that night. Was this a person, a place, an event? I won’t tell you the answer, but I will say it’s none of those things and all of them. And maybe the best auto-correct fail I’ve ever been a party to.

Thoughts about a movie, my job, and my writing after the cut…

More time in the saddle

I’ve been working more on the piece I started a couple of days ago. I have the themes, the major plot arc, and most of the characters mapped out. I assure you that it’s not “chick lit” as would typically earn the title, that said I’d not object to that title by any stretch of the imagination. It’s also not a romance novel, though someone made that logical assumption as well. It does have two main protagonists, and they do fall in love (or at least whatever reasonable interpretation of that state they’re able to craft individually and collectively), but “romantic” is probably not the principle description one would use for the themes tackled and the resolutions found.

Someone else asked if it has a happy ending, and the answer is no, but it doesn’t have an unhappy ending either. As it’s a story about life, and life is a story that won’t end until the last of us succumbs to the Zombie Apocalypse (or comet impact or religious tribulation or what have you), it doesn’t end cleanly with anyone riding off into a sunset. Happily-ever-after is the province of fairy tales and fantasy novels. I love both of those things and aspire to write them, but this is not either of those kinds of stories.

Growing up, I spent years believing that if we loved enough bad things wouldn’t happen to us. I grew up and discovered that bad things happen no matter how much you love someone. This story is about bad things that happen and the fact that people can love each other in spite of (or even because of) the string of tragedies that make up a human life. If you live a life without ever experiencing a tragedy, then you never bothered to live at all. The people in this story live a lot of life and earn whatever love that comes on the other side.

In this post I’ll put up the rest of the raw and unedited first chapter, and in my next post I’ll post the same for chapter two. After that, I’ll post my editing process and you can all see how I trim sentences and change words and generally whack back the unruly beast that is a draft into something a little bit more tame and readable.

The rest of Chapter 1 after the cut…

Back in the saddle again

In keeping with my new goal of writing more, I’m actively trying to invest time in writing fiction again. Yes, this will eat into my blogging, but to make up for it I’ll be posting as much of the fiction I do write on serial storyteller as is possible/reasonable/etc. As an example I started this tonight at 8:23 and three hours later this is my completely unpolished draft of the first two pages of something I have no idea if I’ll finish. I have the whole thing plotted out in my head, but the story arc is heavy on the bitter and light on the sweet.

Anyway, I’ll be posting the rest of the pieces on my fiction oriented site once I refresh that one and give it a face-lift and reboot. As I continue to post over there I’ll drop posts with links here just so no one has to follow both to keep up with the writing if they want to.

The first bit of fiction I wrote in 2012 after the cut…

Brand new same old same old

I spent the holidays with Sarah here, and as such I didn’t do much beyond be dad and do chores around the house. I think the most exciting thing was putting a new 20 amp breaker in the panel and wiring up power to the cottage near the new horse pasture. Well, that wasn’t all that exciting, but testing the new electric-tape fence was at least somewhat amusing I guess. As I couldn’t find the fence tester I got last year for Christmas, I figured I’d just do what I did last time and use my hand.


The jolt from a solar-powered box with a 2500 milliamp battery is basically equivalent to the zip you get from a 9v battery on your tongue times two. The jolt from an AC fence energizer that can power ten miles of fence and runs dedicated off a 20 amp breaker over 12 gauge wire is…stronger. Like, “red scorch mark on your hand” and “knee buckles out from under you” stronger. Let us just say that I didn’t have to test it a second time.

Anyway, the thing I didn’t do over the holidays was write. Anything. At all.

Crippling self-doubt and authorial insecurities…