Friday, May 30, 2008

Domino vs AD

I began ranting about Domino magazine over in the comments at Ann's place. Then I realized, how rude (sorry, Ann!), I should do my ranting on my own blog.

I received a Free! subscription to Domino because, as far as I can tell, I bought too much crap on and they rightly concluded that I was ripe for cross-promotion. Now, every month,
prettily designed, bright pages add a splash of style to my mailbox. I always tear it open and gaze at the pages upon pages of stylish, "easy" living. Then I feel annoyance begin to creep in. Before I finish a given issue, I am incredibly pissed at the insincerity of Domino.

The glossy pages are full of beautiful, effortlessly glamorous women about my age, who have stylishly unique homes loaded with gorgeous "no fuss" Swedish furniture and/or Bulgarian pottery and/or eco-friendly whatevers. These women are all "creative types" whose careers likely do not bring in much moolah, but they helpfully list their must-have, chokingly expensive beauty products and clothing, which they sport in photo shoots in said eco-luscious homes. There are usually photos of the laughing lady with her ruggedly-handsome-but-sensitive beau, one or more purebred dogs, and maybe a couple of lovely, smiling children with golden ringlets.

Here's the problem. Domino is pretending that this is a lifestyle accessible to me!, Jane Average Gal, with savvy shopping tips for items I cannot afford and headlines like, "Refresh Your Home for Summer" and "Easy Outdoor Entertaining". As if there is nothing unusual about this effortlessly wealthy lifestyle.

By contrast with Domino, I am appreciating my Architectural Digest subscription even more. The homes are more lavish--compounds, really--but AD has the good grace not to pretend such opulence is something to which I can, or should, aspire. Recent covers stories included "A Private Visit with Ralph and Ricky Lauren" and "The Great Design Issue". OK, then. I am looking in on the superlative architecture of a lifestyle far removed from mine. It's like a vacation. I appreciate the honesty in that.

kStyle Not Feeling So Hot

Yesterday, I kept wondering what was wrong with me. I was grouchy beyond reason, which is not to say that I did not have some perfectly good reasons (coworkers behaving Very Badly) to be grouchy. But I felt all twisted up out of proportion to the stressors--my jaw was grinding, neck aching and stiff, head pounding, stomach queasy. I felt uncomfortably warm, although my officemate said she was a perfect temperature.

I came home and de-stressed with a nice walk around the park, and then realized: Oh, I'm a little sick. As the jawgrind unwound, the headache remained. The upset stomach became worse. I fell asleep on the couch rather dramatically--I felt pulled under by sleep--woke up wanting only toast and sips of water.

I'm still not feeling sick-sick, just worn out and mildly ill. I'm wondering whether this merits canceling my shiatsu client this afternoon. I suspect it does.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Volleyball Improves!

The Austrians weren't there tonight. I don't know whether they were asked to join a more competitive session than ours. I hope so. Volleyball was much, much better without them: We had enough people to play one game with six-person teams, everyone was cordial, there were enough decent players to make up for the nice-but-inconsistent teen girls and the nice-but-unfocused middle-aged women. We laughed, we volleyed, we occasionally dove. As it should be.

Discussion Point

Let’s cut straight to the heart of the week’s news: Do you plan to see the SATC movie? Why or why not?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Comic Gold

This is brilliant:

Who would have guessed that when you remove Garfield from the Garfield comic strips, the result is an even better comic about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and the empty desperation of modern life?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Bloated Statistics

Fascinating! It seems that the much-publicized "obesity epidemic" is at least partly because of a shift in the definition of obesity.

I'm so happy about this that I baked cookies. ;)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Dreams of Roma

The city of Rome is a frequent character in my dreams. I'm not sure why Rome--Athens is more deeply enmeshed in my heartstrings--unless my subconscious is making puns. Rome represents freedom, retreat, carefree-ness (carefreeity?), new adventures.

My recurring dream is that G. and I are in Rome, enjoying a retreat far away from everything in a different, beautiful, mysterious world of heart-stoppingly beautiful architecture and infinite places to explore. There are a few variations on this dream. Night falls and either we are planning to meet for dinner after spending the afternoon in different places--very much looking forward to a candlit meal and sharing the day's events--or we are together but on opposite ends of a tour group*. Then, a disaster strikes, and everyone has to make a mass exodus on foot from the heart of Rome. Sometimes a flaming meteor hits the city. Once there was a giant, man-eating monster in the canals (canals are really in Venice, I know) and we had to leave because of that. It almost got me when I leaned over a fountain! It sounds silly by daylight, but it was terribly frightening. We walk and walk, refugees trying to find each other in the crowd.

Rome is taken away and we are refugees.

Dream #2, G. and are on a plane for Rome, and it gets stuck on the runway.

Dream #3, I am in Rome alone, visiting friends or strangers, I'm not sure which. Maybe it's an exchange program. But I'm staying with these people in their apartment, and I can't get out into the city. I just can't leave for some reason. And then it's time to fly home, but I haven't seen Rome at all.

But then! Here, my friends, is where it gets good. After all my thwarted attempts to escape to Rome, and the tragedy or frustration that ensues, I had a wonderful dream two nights ago:

I woke up on a wrought-iron bed with a beautiful white coverlet in a cream-colored room with high ceilings. White curtains were billowing around a window, which framed a view of an Italian courtyard. I felt deeply content, having found a leafy, quiet retreat in the great city of Rome. I would spend the day in the city and then return to my little haven. But first, a cappuccino!--
---BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP--My alarm slammed me into reality, a day of sitting in my car in frustrating traffic in order to sit at my desk. Oh yes, I was grouchy yesterday morning, but as afternoon came and the sun broke through, creating corresponding changes in my disposition, I realized what a gift the dream was! I was in Rome! My longtime dream was becoming reality (albeit in the dream)! I was content, safe, and looking forward to a cappuccino!

I think this series of dreams is about the frustration a long PhD process creates. The non-PhD spouse (me) may get stalled in a despised career in order to bring in the steady paycheck, thinking it would be best to stick with the same, steady job until the PhD candidate finishes (lest they both end up refugees, on the street unable to pay the mortgage). The PhD candidate also feels stuck, at the mercy of his adviser. Both are working very hard, but not bringing in much money. They just can't get to Rome. Eventually, perhaps the non-PhD spouse decides to move ahead into a new career without waiting for the PhD process to be over (going to Rome by herself), and this creates a sense of relief for her.

*I wouldn't do a tour group in my waking life. Just sayin'.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

My Dear Alma Mater

I am sorely tempted to drive the 2-hours-and-change to my alma mater on Sunday. Why?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Weird Volleyball Dynamics

I'm getting better at volleyball. Tonight was the fourth of eight sessions. I actually felt like I was contributing in a positive way.

You may recall that at the first session, almost all the other players were Chinese. At the second session, the big, loud, obnoxious German guy brought all his friends, and suddenly the young, hip, athletic, loud, competitive Germans outnumbered even the Chinese players. At the third session, the Germans and Chinese adults broke off to their own game, leaving me, G., my friend the yogini, three women 10-20 years older than me, and all the Chinese-American high school girls playing a less competitive game together.

This dynamic is becoming a problem. I'm too uncoordinated and too meek to play with the Germans, who tonight I discovered are actually Austrians. Last week, in a bizarre mixed game that happened before the other Austrians arrived, the obnoxious ringleader Austrian sent me into really fun panic attacks; he was serving whenever I was setting/hyperventilating/feeling dizzy.

So tonight, G. was home with a cold and my friend the yogini didn't arrive. That left me alone without a tribe. The Austrians and Chinese adults are right out, too serious and aggressive, too talented. The older women are quite a bit older than I, and all want to chat more than play; I'm not even sure why they come to volleyball rather than going for coffee. Getting them on the court is a perpetual challenge. The lack of focus is extraordinary. The high schoolers want nothing to do with anyone over 20, especially since a newly-arrived older woman made Classic Errors When Dealing with Adolescents this week. New Older Woman showed up for the first time of this 8-week cycle, though she clearly has played many times before, and began treating the high school girls like they were new, explaining rules they well knew and generally being bossy. Had she done this to me, I would've been like, "Yo, it's cool, I've been here for four weeks and I missed that because I'm just warming up tonight." But not so adolescents, who are understandably touchy about such things. Then the New Older Woman was mystified that the High Schoolers wanted nothing to do with her.

G. and I are thinking of switching v-ball nights when these 8 weeks are up. We think a little more structure and leadership from the instructor could make a world of difference, get some better games going, and break up the cliques. Thursday nights have a different instructor...

That said, it is fun.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Overtired kStyle Iz Overtired


When you start weeping at The Vicar of Dibley, you know.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

One More Shantideva

From Chapter 2: The Confession of Sin

34. I have committed various vices for the sake of friends and enemies. This I have not recognized: "Leaving everyone behind, I must pass away."

35. My enemies will not remain, nor will my friends remain. I shall not remain. Nothing will remain.

From Chapter 4: Attending to the Spirit of Awakening

20. Therefore, the blessed one stated that human existence is extremely difficult to obtain, like a turtle's head emerging into the ring of a yoke in a vast ocean.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

And now, a pause for the words of Shantideva

Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life--

From Chapter 5: Guarding Introspection
13. Where would there be leather enough to cover the entire world? The earth is covered over merely with the leather of my sandals.
14. Likewise, I am unable to restrain external phenomena, but I shall restrain my own mind, what need is there to restrain anything else?
From Chapter 6: Patience
33. Therefore, upon seeing a friend or an enemy committing a wrong deed, one should reflect, "Such are his conditions," and be at ease.
34. If all beings would find fulfillment according to their own wishes, then no one would suffer, for no one wishes to suffer.

(These are not the most fluid translations, but rather the ones found easily online. Here's the monk-approved translation we read at my sangha; here's the version with excellent commentary some members bring instead.)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Festival Day

was terrific fun. I shaped and fried many, many dumplings. Chef and I had a rotating brigade of high school students. It was somewhat unfortunate that as soon as the kids got into a dumpling groove, their teacher rotated them to another duty and sent us a new group to start over.

I stayed in the kitchen until my guests arrived. We marveled at the mandala, listened to our monk talk to a packed lecture hall, took in the high school dance troupe's performance to benefit the organization. (I had been mistaken, thinking we were to see traditional Tibetan dance.)

The whole event was to benefit the school my sangha runs in a remote, impoverished mountain area where many Tibetans settled. Lobsang calls it both "school" and "orphanage", which gives you an idea. His talk was quite heartbreaking. The stories of these children were worse than the most macabre vision of Dickens. The photos of the shacks, the 85-year-old woman supporting her two orphaned grandchildren by hauling rocks 12 hours a day... But the changes in the children's faces after a month at the school are undeniable. They learn to smile.

My Mom had a hundred million questions that I could not answer, as usual: Where do the monks live who aren't affiliated with a monastery? Do they have divinity degrees? (I'm pretty sure that the monastic educational system is just Totally Different in Tibet and India.) I can't remember another example from the multitude of questions, for the questions probed the kind of concrete-thinking, "how" details that simply float out of my abstract mind. I offered what information I could about Buddhist belief and practice (which didn't seem to interest my mom all that much) and apologized for not having more answers. On Mother's Day, no less! My mother was very gracious but assured me there would be more questions nonetheless. (My Dad was interested in Buddhism itself, but especially in finding himself in a state-of-the-art high school. Once a principal...)

Dinner was delicious, especially the beef curry. Two Tibetan cooks--just two!--worked from 10:30 AM until 6 PM preparing the feast which, in addition to the beef, included grilled chicken, vegetable lo mein, jasmine rice, salad, and hot hot hot sauce on the side. My kitchen contributed dessert (the carrot fudge) and chai. The Tibetan cooks were just such nice guys, friendly and shaking my hand, no matter any language barrier. The Tibetan chef taught us his way to fold dumplings, which was better than the way we'd been doing it, so we switched. I began to think that the Chinese government could not have violently deposed a nicer people.

I was very tired, so we left before the Tibetan music concert. No matter, collapsing on the couch to watch a bit of "The Vicar of Dibley" was really what I needed that that point. Today, I feel a little of that sadness that a very happy event has passed and we are back in ordinary life. I'm trying to remember the Zen teaching of "no coming, no going".

PS I have photos, but they are on film. Someday you will get to see them.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Being Tibetan

Tomorrow is the long-awaited Compassion Festival sponsored by my sangha! The monks have been working on the sand mandala for a week. I saw it today, almost finished, and it is stunning, beautiful, glorious, gorgeous, touching.

Late this afternoon, I went to the high school hosting the mandala and festival to help with food prep. I was surprised to find pretty fliers on the school's doors advertising dharma talks our monk gave for students throughout the week. The high school was massive, the main office closed, and no map to be found. Some students pointed me in the right direction. I wondered how I would know when I was approaching the right place.

I need not have worried. At the foot of the stairs, I heard recorded Tibetan chants and saw the bright yellows and greens of Tibetan Buddhist banners. There were four or five cinnamon-robe-clad monks. One was working on the mandala, measuring the edges with a compass. His sneakers peeked out from beneath the red robes. People clustered around the mandala for a glimpse. Were they parents of high school students, or just people who lived in town? I paused for a moment, bowled over by this work of art, deeply afraid of sneezing. Further down the hallway, I saw Lobsang, "our monk," answering questions, and his best friend, Amdo (another monk), at his elbow. At last I spied a woman wearing an apron dusted liberally with flour, and asked where the kitchen was.

I expected to slog through boring hours of chopping, but I was essentially treated to a cooking class on stuffing and shaping Tibetan dumplings. Chef Viktor, our leader, seemed impressed with my work, and the high school cafeteria manager half-jokingly offered me a job. It was great fun to socialize with the sangha members who were there, but meeting Chef Viktor was the real treat. He made sure that his volunteer cooks tried the carrot fudge (ohmygod, like the best carrot cake you never had) and enjoyed the samples of reject dumplings. When the other cooks cleared out and I stayed with just a few others to clean, I had the chance to chat with Chef. He grew up in Mozambique, has lived in 7 countries in 3 continents, and has studied the cuisine of all of them. He uses only Succanat for sweetener and has fascinating insights about the mineral and nutritional value of sweeteners. We both admire Jacques Pepin.

I also enjoyed the cleaning, the pulling long streams of cling wrap across trays. It reminded me of my college work study days in the Kosher Kitchen. I missed the Beatles compilation we used to play during cleanup.

As we cleaned and tidied, Lobsang and Amdo entered the kitchen. Lobsang does not know my name, but often greets me with a warm bow-handshake-hug, a fusion hello which always delights me. Chef explained that he may not return tomorrow, as he lives far away, and a Tibetan who speaks no English was slated to be running the kitchen. (I had already volunteered to lead the crew to fold the remaining 150 dumplings and fry all 300 if Chef couldn't return. Chef was glad to have me when I mentioned my high school summers frying up clamcakes.) It turns out they found another Tibetan chef who does know English, and Lobsang charmingly requested Chef's return tomorrow. You can't say no to a monk, especially one as charismatic as ours, so Chef and I will be manufacturing the dumplings together in the morning.

The food we made today is just the snacks to sell in the afternoon. The evening's dinner for 300 will be prepared by the Tibetan crew tomorrow. I wonder what time service will really happen. It's scheduled for 6. Based on my limited exposure to the Tibetan sense of time, I would guess we will eat somewhere between 6:45 and 9.

As we walked out, Chef told me the mandala is so beautiful it made him weep. We looked at it from the second-floor balcony, mesmerized by the colors and intricate patterns. Two high school girls were departing from extracurriculars at that time. They leaned over to look at the mandala again. "It's sooo beautiful," one whispered in awe.

My parents are coming up for the festival, too! Yay!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


I have grown somewhat weary of my shiatsu colleagues--not of my clients, who are wonderful, clever, generous, insightful human beings--but my fellow practitioners. If I have to endure one more conversation that takes as its starting point the presupposition that The Law of Attraction is really a "law" of the universe, witness one more debate about the symptoms of entity possession and the best cure thereof, or hear any more tales of the healing properties of angels, spirit guides, and/or crystals, I might just snap. I may show symptoms of demonic possession myself.

Many of my colleagues, mind you, are not like this. It just seems that the ones who are will Not Stop Talking. Most startling to me is that the offenders are completely unselfconscious about their cockamamie ideas.

Of course, this is just one branch of a General Misanthropy I'm experiencing of late. Other irritations include Printer Discourtesy (PUT YOUR DAMN LABELS IN THE PRINTER WHEN YOU'RE PRINTING LABELS, RESTOCK THE PAPER WHEN YOU PRINT THE ENTIRE ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA); No One Knows Who Replaces the Toner Cartridge; Yakking on Cell Phone While Driving an SUV Too Large For You to Handle--that means YOU, Soccer Mom and Angry/Entitled Corporate Guy; and, my favorite, Outsourcing/Slashing Pay for Local Vendors in Order To Line the Pockets of Senior Management (NOT Ethical).

Sunday, May 4, 2008


I was at a party trying to ask Barack Obama whether my friend would pass the Bar, and whether he had lots of stress when he took the Bar. But Barack was distracted by trying to flirt with my coworker, Therese, who is very blond and pretty. Then there was a complicated interlude I can't quite remember, involving dancing to Soul Coughing songs on a disco floor and someone picking violets. As I was leaving the party, this woman I know who runs an art gallery in real life told me to check my mailbox. Barack had left his lucky deck of playing cards in my mailbox. He left his lucky card--8 of Clubs--face up, with a note apologizing for his distractedness. He said my friend would pass the Bar, and then asked that I serve on his religious advisory board, because he needs a Buddhist.

The interpretation is where it gets interesting. In real life:
Therese is my friend's middle name as well as my coworker's name. (My friend is really prepping for the Bar.) The day before I had the dream, another friend was talking about picking violets. Last week, the woman who runs the art gallery left me a bunch of stuff in my shiatsu office cubby. Best of all, the 8 of Clubs corresponds the Tarot card 8 of Wands, which represents things being up in the air but falling into place.

Facebook Is a Time Suck, and Other Notes from the Weekend

  • Facebook. It sucks me in. It also just plain sucks, in a sense. But I can't turn away. I will probably use it intensely for 2 weeks and then never log in again. Like I did with Friendster.
  • The Best recipe for PB Cookies Anywhere Ever is Peanut Butter Crisscrosses, page 303 of The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion: The All-Purpose Baking Cookbook.
  • We are still scraping ancient wallpaper glue of the bathroom walls, and still hoping it isn't carcinogenic.
  • Thanks to a groovy idea in Domino Magazine (I got a free subscription for some cross-promotional reason I don't quite understand), I made a master grocery list containing the major things we usually buy, in the order they appear in the store. Before shopping, we can cross out what we don't need and write in anything extra we do need.
  • I threw off my anticipated timelines by being accepted to a graduate program way faster than expected, and now I'm looking at registering for courses and applying for financial aid rather than prepping for the GREs, and it's got me a little unbalanced, like, nightmares about forgetting to do my social studies homework and being the only 35-year-old (older than I really am) in a class with 15-year-olds, who incidentally are all the old high school friends I found on Facebook this weekend.
  • I like Nia. We had a dancin' Beltane celebration Friday night. Awesome.
  • I tried to mail my sister some gluten-free mixes purchased at the local Trader Joe's. The enthusiastic bagger/manager handed me a list of all the many gluten-free products Trader Joe's carries. I thought, what the hell, and threw the list in the package to her. I've been to the post office no fewer than 3 times this weekend, but the package to my sister is still not mailed.
  • The Best of the Colbert Report: funny stuff. Its mood is less cynical than The Daily Show.
  • Finally, Jacques Pepin has had a fascinating life. I highly recommend his autobiography.