17 October 2007


For an A-type personality to take on Buddhism, it borders on ludicrous. Opinion and judgment forming are as natural to me as drawing breath. It’s effortless and happens often without conscious thought. The opinion just — poof! — pops into my head and then generally flies right out of my mouth without passing Go or collecting $200...leading me directly to jail for tactlessness. This isn’t catty action. I’m not walking around comparing myself to others all day. I couldn’t imagine anything more tiresome. Could you? Exactly. I’m much more fascinated by how people behave, use or ignore logic, or carry about their lives without much introspection. These are the attributes of a bored and narrow-thinking philosopher, not a Buddha.

Being one who momentarily minored in Religious Philosophy (it gave me a chance to argue — I mean, “debate” — for a grade) before going off to film school, I’ve had the opportunity to study the major religions and their dogmas. Remove the politics and egos from them, and all religions are basically the same. Hate to break it to those who think theirs is “the only way”...they are all the way. We simply need to find our own road, whether you believe in a deity, higher power or simply yourself.

Buddhism has always rung truest to me. And the neat-o thing about Buddhism is that you aren’t supposed to believe it on someone else’s word. You are to believe it if and when it works for you. I find that to be a bit ballsy, and totally appealing.

For a long time now, I’ve been told to meditate. “It will do wonders for you,” they said when I would double over from ulcer pain. Yet, the only thing more ludicrous than an A-typer not forming an opinion on something is to sit in silence. Quieting this mind isn’t going to happen. I’ve tried silent meditation many times, and one of two things happens: 1) I fall asleep, or 2) I keep repeating to my brain, “Shut up. Will you please just shut up?!?” Realizing that wasn’t the kind of mantra one should have, I looked for another. Ohm was just too predictable. I harkened back to What’s Love Got To Do With It and went the Nam Myoho Renge Kyo route. It worked for Tina. And, yes, Courtney and I have chanted together. Chanting for me is relaxing and centering, and it does help me let go. Although, second nature does creep in from time to time. After all, I’m A-type down to my blood type.

Buddhism is pretty direct. Karma isn’t complicated; it’s merely cause and effect. What you put out, you get back. What you fail to learn will hit you upside the head at some point, or will certainly bite you in the ass. This is not to say one should walk around in a panic. It means we are meant to be aware of and take responsibility for our thoughts and actions. It really is that simple. It’s Buddhism, not rocket science. It ain’t Mormonism, either.

Recently, when I mentioned having wine at a study group, I was given the down-the-nose-and-over-the-glasses look by one of the senior members. Let me be clear; I wasn’t suggesting getting liquored up before chanting. Even I’m not that sacrilegious. I thought it would be nice for after. Another member suggested that my affinity for grabbing some Buddhies and going to happy hour after our weekly meeting might not be proper practice. Excuse me?

Let me just tell you that the last person I’m going to be judged by is a Buddhist. Come on. That’s like Shakyamuni 101.

But, if judgment is on the table...let’s talk about those who keep their cell phones on during meetings. Make noise during the silent prayers. Interrupt when others are speaking and fail to pay for their share of the appetizers at happy hour. Buddhist or not, that’s simply rude. And the A-type in me can’t turn a blind eye to that. Although, she is learning to bite her tongue.

Buddhists are human and flawed — but at least we are aware of that. Ann Coulter wouldn’t like us because we aren’t looking for perfection, or bothering to force the world into becoming what we are. Which is groovy. No. Like I said, each person needs to find his or her own road. Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is the one I’ve chosen. It works for me. I know I’ve racked up some karma, both good and bad, and I own it. Perhaps one day, through this practice, I will have indestructible inner peace and complete acceptance of all things. Oh, wouldn’t that be nice. If not, I just hope to be around for the day that Coulter’s karma comes a calling. It will be worth coming back as a dung beetle just to watch that happen, with popcorn and champers, and TiVo replays. Like I said, human and flawed, with a wicked sense of humor and justice for all.

03 October 2007

How to Write a Novel

Writing a novel takes a great deal of work and dedication. It’s not as simple as saying, “I have an idea for a story,” and placing that idea onto paper, or at least the computer screen. No. It takes much more than that, my friend. Much more.

First, you have to mentally prepare. Clear your mind so the story can fill your brain. Repeated viewings of favorite movies assist in this endeavor. It’s sort of a creative meditation, or mental laxative, evacuating all that needs not be in your head. TiVo helps with this aspect of novel writing. I recommend saving on TiVo The Departed (Boston accents are disarming), Infamous (it’s important to see a writer at work) and the guilty pleasure of The Devil Wears Prada (which helps not only to numb creative trepidation, it serves as a beacon of hope — because if that piece of shiction got not only published but adapted into a feature, there is hope for all of us).

Once you are mentally ready, you need to consider what it will take to fuel your creativity. You do have to eat. Stock up on staple items; things that won’t spoil or take much effort to prepare. My favorite staple is a collection of menus from restaurants that deliver. Face it, you aren’t going to have much time or energy to fend for yourself. Crunchy food is a good thing. It helps you to “chew” your ideas. I recommend Baked Lays and Peanut M&Ms. Baked Lays offer fiber. Who knew? And the Peanut M&Ms are low glycemic index. That’s nearly a healthy meal. And your health is important to consider. These items can be procured at any liquor or convenience store, like the one three blocks from me. Walking to get your goodies allows you to combine much needed exercise and fresh air getting. You can also buy a lottery ticket while you are there, because extra funds until that publishing deal comes through will be a boon. The odds of winning the lottery or getting that publishing deal are about the same. Just believe that if you aren’t winning that Fantasy 5, your book deal is waiting.

Soymilk is good for you. Caffeine keeps you peppy. So, you shouldn’t feel guilty about all that money you are spending on your daily 2-3 Venti soy latte Starbucks habit. You can actually see it as a help to those friends who have Starbucks stock. Wine is not only a creative lubricant, but is heart healthy. Yet, if you are going to be serious about writing, Guinness is key. Guinness has spawned many a wonderful Irish tale and is only 125 calories per 12 ounces. How fabulous is that? Granted, the can is nearly 15 ounces, but you are still about 150 calories for a rather tall glass of stout. Watching calories is important when you are writing because not a lot of cardio is involved in the drafting of your tome. Unless you count screaming at the heavens for burdening you with this task.

You will also need to make a personal run to the grocery store for necessities like Charmin, Kleenix, more wine and Guinness. While you are there, get some fruits and vegetables because now is not the time to come down with scurvy. Throw in more Baked Lays, Peanut M&M’s and some cereal and soymilk. Anything you don’t have to cook is a writer’s friend.

You must be disciplined and set aside time each day to tackle the project. The first thing to go is the gym. Staying up late while your creative flames are roaring means that early alarm clock will be beaten into snooze submission. You can’t burn the candle at both ends. The sacrifice is only temporary. And, since you’ve pretty much only been eating portion-controlled amounts of Baked Lays and Guinness, you are doing okay calorie-wise. Throw in a few lunges, some sit ups and push ups in between chapter revisions and you’ll keep some of your tone.

The next thing to go is your social life. You can’t spend that precious creative time trying to figure out what to wear on a night out. Besides, you can’t be expected to get to the dry cleaners and such. You have a colossal undertaking in writing this damn book. Brunch isn’t a weekend requirement anymore. Not even when martinis are offered. Besides, you have Guinness and wine at your house...and Pink Dot on speed dial. You’ve got a job to do. You don’t need any further distractions. And The Departed is on again. That’s a sign from the creative gods that it’s time to “meditate” and hit the laptop.

You’ll also need a creative warm up before hitting the computer keys. I recommend Big Bang Backgammon. You know it’s going to be a good writing day when your Luna whoops that wiseass Sol, making him eat his dialogue-bubbled words.

When you get to about page 300, you will see the light at the end of the tunnel, but you won’t be ready to walk toward it. That’s because you have to go back and fix those first 300 pages before you can write the last 100...or 150 as it’s turning out. It’s a damn drag, but necessary. You’ll get over it. By now, everyone at Starbucks, the liquor store, Gelson’s, Pink Dot and House of Thai Taste all know you by name and/or order. They are ready with a smile and an encouraging word. These are your allies. Tip them well.

You will also need to keep your appointments. The doctor, dentist and orthodontist can’t be ignored. Neither can your roots. A ponytail can only hide so much. You have to keep up your appearance. Never leave the house in your track pants. Change into something more chic when you venture out, even if it’s just for the chips and candy. You can always put the track pants back on when you return. Each day, you will shower. Shaving, however, can be done once a week since you are no longer going to the gym each day and your “service technician” has been put on hiatus until you get the damn book done. It’s all about the sacrifice, people. That’s how great stories get told.

I’m going on month four with this. The goal was to have it done in three. Lofty, I suppose, but I can only keep up this non-exercising, anti-social, take-out way for so long before I lose it completely. Twelve chapters down...three or five more to go. Whoever thought that writing was a walk in the park must’ve been on their second bottle of wine. I’m ready for a pint.