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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Teaching Children How to Smoke


People we don't like, they are our Buddhas, graciously showing us our holes, our systems. Our deficiencies. They point us toward our practice. Zen Centers are not always warm and fuzzy, don't always feel good. Truth is that way. The sun rises, it sets. No concern for how we feel about it.

There are few buddhas in my family. I'm lucky that way. I love them. More importantly, I like them. Big diff. There's things I love that fall into my circle of practice. I don't like them, but I do them. But my family -- parents, siblings, wife and kids?


We all spent a week in a Tennessee lakehouse this summer. The mornings were lazy and the days whittled down on the dock, sampling margaritas or whatever fit in the cooler. Kids practiced swimming, climbing out and jumping back in at least 10,000 times. Ear infections by the end of it all, but worth it.

Dinner, the men smoked cigars and studied the grill. Nieces and nephews watched thick clouds leak from our lips, fascinated, asking us to do it again while the word COOL dribbled out.

Evenings, there were games. Cards and treasure hunts, games of Make Me Laugh and Pictionary. Before the sun set, we took the boat out. The air cool. The water, glass.

We did that, every day. Every night.

We ended with the Talent Show. We all had our acts. The girls had been practicing all week. The boys, maybe they didn't care so much. We all did something until tears ran freely in fits of laughter. Bellies buckled. Sides splitting.

Perhaps, a little taste, there's a clip of my mother that captures the fever we all carry.

It's warm and fuzzy.

(Not sure he knew what that dance move looked like.)


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Your Cover Matters

Don't deny it.

Yes, it's all about the content. No argument. I'd rather have a gold bar painted with sewage than a dog turd dusted with gold. Yes, our essence -- who we are, our soul, our integrity and honor and value -- is far more important than the flesh it's wrapped in. Infinitely so.

 (Claus: Legend of the Fat Man made infinitely better with Mike Tabor's cover.)

Nonetheless. In this world, the cover still matters.

My first couple of novels, I put together decent covers. I avoided the generic label, threw something halfway decent over the top and figured that readers would buy the words, not the picture. Somehow, I figured, readers were like polar bears getting a whiff of dinner a mile away. Only replace seal with words. If I wrote it, they would come.

Just. Not. True.

And I realized this when I finally paid attention to how I judge a book... BY THE COVER! 

I zip through a listing of books like Ray Babbit, stopping to read the summary if, AND ONLY IF, the cover is hot. I mean, if it looked dull or homemade then forget about it. There might be a gold bar in there but I wasn't going to scratch away the sewage to find out.

My homemade covers weren't horrible. Okay, some were. One I hardly tried. The Annihilation of Foreverland was dreary and depressing and who in their right mind would reach for that? I hired a graphic artist and, with some input, she created something spectacular. Guess what?


 (Guess which cover I did.)

I exercise to be fit, to be healthy. So my bones don't creak when I tie my shoes. But I'm going with the face God dealt me. It's not pretty, but it works just fine. What's inside -- how I behave, who I help, how I interact with others -- is something that I measure with greater value.

I meditate. I exercise, too. But when there's only time for one, I choose the former.

But I won't ignore the cover.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Huh. And Other Irrelevant Answers.

Playing cards, the gentleman across the table showed me a photo of his 16 year old daughter.

Obviously proud, I see an attractive young lady sitting on her bed with her cat. I start to say, She's cute. Alarms go off. I can't tell a man his daughter is cute. I've got a 14 year old daughter. If he told me my daughter was cute, I might cringe. Then again, I suppose it depends on how he said it.

Dude, man. Your daughter is cuuuuuute... hmmm. That would be wrong.

She's cute. Real quick, to the point. That would work. I could do that.

But now I'm doubting myself. I don't know this guy, not really. He seems nice, but then I tell him his daughter is cute and he punches me in the face. My daughter is cute? CUTE?

So I'm thinking, thinking fast.What else can I say? She's a fine looking young person... Hey, that looks like a smart, successful person of the future... You've done a great job with that one, I can tell by the way she's not strangling the cat...

Now I'm looking at the picture too long. Any longer, it goes into creepy gazing, like I'm taking some mental snapshot, like I've watched too much Law and Order, SVU. So I blurt something out, break the spell, move on and get out. I nod and say:


It was more of a noise, an acknowledgement that I saw the picture and had no particular feelings about it. None whatsoever.

Nailed it.