Friday, December 30, 2005

Larry Gets Mugged by the Ghost of Christmas Presents

Now that the Christmas fever has abated I can tell this sordid little tale. I couldn’t before because it might have given away a surprise.

It’s a sad tale of the decline of the west, the slow spiral of the concept of customer service into the fetid sump of irrelevance.

It all started about two weeks before Christmas when Suzy Homemaker buttonholed me in the hallway just outside the cafeteria at the Yoni School for Wayward Poets.

“Larry,” she said, “I can’t find my Messiah, I’m missing the Messiah, do you know where the Messiah is? You know, Handel’s Messiah, I can’t find the Messiah, you’re the one who organized the tapes, where’s the Messiah, he isn’t where he’s supposed to be, can’t find him I know you must have put him away in the manger somewhere, where is my Messiah?

I pointed out with some asperity that I had only organized my own Messiah and left everyone else to seek their own.

“But it’s Christmas coming and the Messiah nowhere to be found where is the Handel where is the Messiah I need my Messiah you know like dice need spots like cats need mice like pudding needs rice I must have Handel!

I gently led Suzy to the taped copies I had made several years ago of her very own version of this Messiah, and I also showed her a CD of my own which I purchased several years ago also, because you can never have too many Handels.

This mollified Suzy somewhat. And for several days I called her Molly. This confused and mystified her and probably was the cause of her sentence at the Yoni School being extended indefinitely. “She’s not quite ready for release,” they said.

But it also gave me a wonderful idea. “Larry,” said Larry, “You’re going to surprise Suzy Homemaker by going out (unobserved and unattended) and buying Miss Molly Good Golly her very own brand new copy of The Messiah, performed by those very same Hawgtown Mendelssohn Singers and Hawgtown Symphony Orkesteers that she had before but now cannot find anywhere in this godforsaken Yoni School.”

So I set out.

Now, in Lunchbucket, there’s only one store I know of that would carry this sort of thing, and that’s a store called Twelfth Night. Why is it called Twelfth Night? I don’t know. Ask Shakespeare. Or maybe it’s because if you order anything from them, that’s when it will arrive. Anyway, they have an excellent classical collection, cuz they specialize in that, and jazz too, and independent local artists, and blues and folk.

I went there. Looked for Handel’s Messiah. Under Handel. No Messiah. Asked. Now, understand that I did ask specifically for this Hawgtown Mendelssohn Symphony Orkesteers version, which, although fairly well known, is also fairly old. Woman at counter said, “Oh yes, I know the one you mean. We don’t have it.”

“Can you get it?”

“I’m not sure it’s still available.” But she looked and sure enough, it was. However, it would have to be ordered. By now, I figured if it came on the Twelfth Night, that would be about two days after Christmas.

“If you order it, will it arrive in time for Christmas?”

“I can’t say one way or the other…”

“Cuz it’s kind of useless if it comes after Christmas, isn’t it?”

“I guess so…”

I stood and looked at the woman. Now, understand that my idea of service is that at this point, the clark says, “We have another recording here. Would you like to look at that?” Nothing like that happened here. She just stood and looked back at me.

“That’s it?” I asked.

“I guess so,” she replied.

And I left that store swearing it would be at least a gross of Twelfth Nights before I ever set foot in there again. “You just lost yourself a sale,” I muttered under my breath.

So. No Messiah so far. (And Suzy’s been waiting so long…will the Messiah never come?)

I went for the second choice. HMV. You know, HMV is a British company. Surely the Messiah would be there. After all, Handel was an honourary Englishman.

But here the story gets both goofy and complicated. I went to the store up in North Lunchbucket, hard by one of the thirty-six universities in this town (all called Lunchbucket U or Buck U by those who should know better). Straight to the classical section, arranged by composer. Look! There’s Handel. No Messiah here, though. I wandered all through the store looking for a Christmas display. One with some classical music. No luck. All the so-called “Great Gift Ideas” were the latest Hollywood DVDs and corporate logo CDs. No Handel. I did find something which said Messiah…but only highlights. Alleluia. Oh we like sheep…follow the insipid march of mass marketing…

I did find something that interested me, though. And this is the first big twist in the story. See, I’m a Seinfeld fan. Can’t help it. You need something to distract you from the daily poetic drudge of the Yoni School, what with Suzy Homemaker nattering about the latest development in dayglo yarn, LaLaLeo quietly quivering in a corner pretending he’s the alpha male and Cosmicat mewling about the place as if she were about to drop a poetic pearl from her prim lips. Malton McGuilty has been too busy on the Yoni School Election Watch to be of any use as a diversion. So that leaves Seinfeld.

And what do I spy but seasons 3 & 4 of Seinfeld on DVD…on Sale! On Special! A Two-fer! I snapped em up and walked up to the counter to ask about the Messiah.

There was a young woman, maybe twenty, sitting at the little computer that passes for inventory control.

“Oh, shepherdess of the vast consumer desert, I am following a bright star in search of the one who is to come, the Messiah. Where can the Messiah be found?”

Actually, what I said was, “I’m looking for the Messiah by Handel.”

Her response was a somewhat blank expression.

“The Messiah. By Handel.”

“Hmmm…let’s see what the computer says.” She typed in Messiah. A long list of titles appeared. “You mean the heavy metal band Messiah?”

“No. Georg Friedrich Handel. The Messiah.”

“Oh! OK!” She began typing…H…A…N…D…L…E…

“No, that’s HANDEL.”

Again a long list of titles appeared. In fact it was nearly endless.

“These are all discontinued,” she said.

Ah, so that’s it. Handel has been discontinued. (Just for interest’s sake, Microsoft Werd just tried to correct “Handel” to “Handle”.)

I said, “You do realize that Handel’s Messiah is the most popular and well-known classical Christmas piece there is?” I was heavily discounting The Nutcracker at this point. She gave me that blank expression again.

“Look,” I said, “Can you phone down to Glareview Mall and see if they have it there? I really don’t want to go there if I don’t have to.”

She got on the phone, but said while she was dialling, “They’re really busy down there, I’m going to have to just ask if they have Handel…”

Which, of course, was practically useless. But it didn’t matter, because whoever she spoke to at HMV Glareview said they didn’t have any Handel at all. By this time I was so frustrated I just shook my head and walked away. On the way out of the store, I put Seinfeld back on the shelf and swore it would be at least a gross of Twelfth Nights before I ever set foot in that store again.

But here’s the problem. I was infected by that Seinfeld Special. See, those marketing people are not so stupid as we all would like to believe. At Christmas time, they put together these deals that you won’t necessarily find at other times of the year, so if you want em you gotta get em while you can, even if you can’t stand canned Christmas music and lineups and crowds and all that crass commercialism oozing out onto the slick pre-Christmas pavement.

So what did I do? I spent the next three days travelling around to every bloody HMV store in the whole greater Lunchbucket region looking for those Seinfeld DVDs. Not Handel. I’d sort of given up on Handel. No surprise for Suzy. No, I was now looking to bolster my own flagging Christmas spirits. And guess what. Not a single store had both seasons 3 & 4. They all seemed to have only season 4 left. What good is a Two-fer if there’s only one?

And all the stores were insanely busy. I went to Glareview. Asked for help. The young man said he was just helping someone else and he’d be right back. Five minutes later he walked right past me without acknowledging me. I left.

At the Stoned Mall in Gwulph, a pleasant young man passed me off to a perky young woman. She led me to the place I’d just been to look on the shelves and discovered that there was no season 3. She hurried off to the computer to check. “Oh!” she said…perkily, “That’s just been sold out!”

The smile on her face made me want to scream. How can you smile like that…so…perkily…when you’re delivering news that you can pretty much guess is not going to please the customer? It’s like the doctor saying, “Gee, yer gonna die in a month, are you interested in our special this week…a hemorrhoidectomy?”

Sad to say, I finally admitted defeat. About three days before Christmas, driven by the obsession to find both seasons of Seinfeld, I returned to the North Lunchbucket HMV, hard by Buck U, and there, to my great relief, found that they, at least, still had both seasons. I meekly presented my debit card, taking care not to examine too closely the huge deposit I was making on the debit side of my Indignation Account, and left the store with Seinfeld under my arm.

Not satisfied with this level of abject surrender, I turned my thoughts back to Handel and Suzy Homemaker’s desperate desire to hear the Messiah once more. I had no better ideas. A surprise Messiah was the best thing I could come up with this Christmas. Dejectedly, I returned to Twelfth Night.

Fortunately, the woman who had annoyed me so much was not there. Two young men were at the cash. I took a look about the store, and there, near the front of course, was the Christmas display. And there, near the front of the Christmas display of course, was Handel’s Messiah. CD. And! DVD! I suddenly had a brainstorm. Since we already had a CD, why not get Suzy the DVD? Then she could watch the Messiah as well as hear him.

Both the CD and DVD were Mozart’s arrangement. (For Messiahphiles, that means there are trombones lurking in the horn section.) The covers of both CD and DVD had a lot of German writing on them. I asked the twin gentlemen, “Is this in English?” “Oh yes,” they replied, “It’s just Mozart’s orchestration, a little different from other versions, you know, with the trombones and South African thumbscrews and all that.”

“OK,” I said, “I’ll take the DVD.” And so I did. Christmas mission accomplished.

But no! Story not finished yet! On Boxing Day we cleared the detritus out of the Common Room at the Yoni School. They grumbled a little, wanting to watch reruns of the Mayor’s Levee, Mel Lastman backslapping and inadvertently insulting entire cultures. While fending off both a right hook and a left jab from Malton McGuilty, we reverently placed Mozart’s Handel’s Messiah in the DVD player. And watched a fine young tenor who looked as if butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth sing.

In German.

That bum Mozart! He takes an English classic, adds trombones and Zulu war drums, and has the nerve to get the libretto translated so his precious Salzburgian burghers can follow the plot. And there we were, Suzy and I, watching the Messiah arrive in Lunchbucket with subtitles!

Never fear, however, persistent reader! There is a tale of redemption yet in the Messiah. A couple of days ago, I returned again to Twelfth Night. Unfortunately, the woman who so annoyed me the first time was there this time. But it was not the same woman! It was an agreeable, accommodating likeness of the previously so annoying woman. I explained my problem and she accepted my disappointment with great equanimity.

“Is there an English DVD?” I asked.

She searched the computer and discovered not one, but two English versions. One of them was a special recording made on the 250th anniversary of the Messiah’s birth, recorded in the very town in Ireland where he was born, conducted by Neville Marriner and sung by Sophie von Rocky Raccoon, among others. That’s the one I ordered! I’m hoping it will arrive on the Twelfth Night.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

Yoni School Election Watch Pt. 5

Citizens of Canada, we are pleased to announce the creation of a new political party, just in time to be included as a write-in vote in the upcoming federal election. Candidates are running secretly in every riding throughout the country, including territories, shires, townships and colonial possessions.

Our Name: Bunch of Utterly Lame Losers aka B.U.L.L.
Our Logo:
Our Platform: May be viewed at Jedediah Martin's hog farm in Jakobstetl ON
Our Membership: Restricted to only those who do not wish to belong. In fact, anyone who does not wish to belong is automatically a member. Disavowal of membership is a priori construed as a falsehood, whether intentional or inadvertent.
Our Slogan: Taken from a song made popular during the election of 1915.

Cows may come and cows may go
But the BULL will go on forever!

Vote for the BULL

Song of the Day

Nothin' But the Blues by Whisky Howl

A fabulous blues band in the early 70's that came out of Steeltown. This song popped up completely out of the blue. Haven't thought of that band for quite some time. The song I expected to be singing in my head this morning was Oye Como Va by Santana, because it was the last thing I heard before I fell asleep.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Yoni School Election Watch Pt. 4

The Not-So-Great-Debate

Jack Layoff: Gliberals bad. Elect more National Deficit MPs. Constipators bad. Elect more National Deficit MPs. Floc Quebecois bad. Elect more National Deficit MPs. And by the way, elect more National Deficit MPs.

Gilles Deceit: Good line but not very original: The west wants in and Quebec wants out.

Stephen Harpy: I’m sorry, I can’t seem to get this little smirk off my face.

Paul Martinette: I’m incredibly optimistic about all these programs and initiatives we have, even though most of you have never heard of them before. Actually, I just thought them up a minute ago.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Notes on Emptiness #9

The question to be answered is this: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

The chicken cannot come first, for this would mean there was a result without a cause.

The egg cannot come first, for this would mean there was a cause without a result.

They cannot be simultaneous, for this would mean there was no connection between them. One would be unable to act as the cause for the other.

The chicken cannot appear without an egg. The egg cannot exist without the chicken. They cannot exist independently.

Answer: emptiness. Dependently arising mere appearances.

Digg! diigo it

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Choosing a Formal Practice Or: Letting it Choose You

I had a good talk with Lama Phuntsok today which included, among other things, a discussion of undertaking formal practice. I’ve always felt a little insecure about the legitimacy of my most regular formal practice, which is Vajrasattva (in union with consort). The most salient feature of this practice, in general terms, is purification. But just saying “purification” doesn’t really convey the whole meaning.

The reason for my insecurity is that I’ve been following this practice on my own, really, without any direction from a guru or teacher. My feeling was that (given the emphasis in Tibetan Buddhism on relying on one’s guru) I should be following some practice prescribed by a qualifed teacher such as Lama Phuntsok. But no one told me to do this Vajrasattva practice, at least not directly. I picked it up on my own. I learned the basic elements of it pretty much on my own too.

I say that no one told me to do it. But how I came to be doing it is a (perhaps) interesting story. It began when I picked up a little practice booklet at an early teaching by Ven. Wongmo. The booklet had fallen on the floor (a no-no), so I picked it up and saw that it was a Vajrasattva practice. It looked interesting, so I kept it.

A couple weeks later I asked people at our gathering whether any of them knew where I could get hold of an image of Amitabha Buddha, because I had read (erroneously, it turned out) that Amitabha was related to issues of sexuality. “No, no,” somebody said, “That would be Vajrasattva.” Hmmm…I already had that little booklet.

A couple of weeks after that I went to a store in New Humbug belonging to a friend of this same person. The store sold articles related to Buddhism…malas, meditation cushions, artwork, practice implements. All that kind of stuff. In one room was an extensive collection of statues. For some reason I gravitated towards one in particular. A beautifully detailed bronze statue of a deity in union with his consort. Actually, the statue practically fell into my hands. (And it turned out later that this particular statue was quite well-known to some of the Dharma buddies. In fact, it was a bit of a prize.)

I picked it up and said to the woman there, “And this is…?”

“Vajrasattva,” she said.

“And how much is it?”

“Well…this is a fairly expensive one,” she replied, “Because it’s decorated with lapis lazuli. Four hundred and fifty dollars…”

Ordinarily that would cause me to set the thing down immediately. But not this time. By coincidence (he says sceptically) I had been seriously considering buying a painting I had seen in Gwulph priced at $750. I’ve never spent that much on any piece of art. But I was prepared to spend it on that painting. Needless to say, I never bought the painting. I quickly concluded that $450 was money well spent. An investment for the future, let’s say. Future lives.

A few days after that I was at Riwoche Temple in Hawgtown. I forget why. But I happened to mention that I had just bought this statue to a woman I knew. She practically yelled over to Sonam Rinpoche, the head of the temple and the monk with whom I first took refuge that I had bought a Vajrasattva statue. He just smiled and nodded his head. (His English isn’t that great.)

Then, only a few months later, I was told that Sonam Rinpoche was going to confer a Vajrasattva empowerment, something which he had never done before. Of course, I was convinced that he had chosen this moment to do it expressly for my benefit. So I took the empowerment and have been practising to the best of my ability ever since.

But no one told me to do it.

Digg! diigo it

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bashing Heads for Emptiness

Some of the Tibetan stories of famous gurus are quite Zen-like. Here is one quoted by Gen Lamrimpa in his book, Transcending Time:

Is the ordinary appearance of the guru simply the guru's actual appearance or is it something created by one's own mind? The ordinary appearance is created by one's own defiled mind, which is blemished by mental afflictions. The story of Naropa illustrates this point.

With great difficulty Guru Naropa sought out his teacher, Guru Tilopa. While on this quest, he met a man with a backpack. Naropa asked him, "Have you seen the master Tilopa?"

The man said, "No, I have not seen Tilopa, but if you go over there by that mountain, you will find a person beating on his parents' heads." The person carrying the backpack was an emanation of Tilopa.

Naropa went to the mountain and saw a person bashing two heads. Naropa asked the person beating the heads, "Have you seen Tilopa?"

The person said, "Yes, I have. I will show him to you, but before I do that, my parents have not treated me well, so you need to bash their heads, too."

Naropa answered, "First, I am a prince; second, I am a fully ordained monk; and third I am a pandit; and for these reasons I find it wrong to bash people's heads." Naropa reflected further and said, "I have been seeking out this teacher Tilopa in order to practice Dharma, and bashing people's heads is not Dharma, so I think I will be on my way."

As soon as Naropa thought that, the person beating the heads and the people being beaten vanished. A voice from the sky said, "For the cultivation of great compassion it is necessary to realize emptiness. You must beat the head of self-grasping with the hammer of identitylessness."

Digg! diigo it

Monday, December 12, 2005

Song of the Day

Knock Three Times by Tony Orlando & Dawn

I don't even like to admit this. I can't stand that song.

Friday, December 09, 2005

After All, It's Not as if Aslan Were an Ordinary Lion

So this is the weekend that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is being released. I think I’ll wait until it comes out on DVD. (Hate those multiplexes, hives overrun with drones selling fries, pizza, pricey popcorn and supersizeme kegs of watery pop and the actual reason for being there is reduced to a distraction what with self-serve ticket kiosks and unholy lineups and everybody yelling and running around like this is the most important thing they could be doing when what they’re actually doing is playing some video game in the hallway or talking on cellphone to nobody in particular while they wait in the second lineup to get into the stupid theatre where some acne-faced Project People reject regales you with lukewarm humour using all the bravado he or she can muster and then proceeds to make sure you know he/she has all the glutinous sugary treats you could possibly want at exorbitant rates as if it was the Movie Mafia you were visiting…OK, I’m done…)

Really, I wanna talk about LWW. This morning, the CBC1 program The Currant (is that a description of the size of its audience?) spent an entire half hour discussing LWW, Disney’s marketing scheme, and the supposed controversy being generated over LWW’s Christian content.

Here’s what I wanna say about this first: IT’S AN ESSENTIALLY CHRISTIAN ALLEGORY FER CHRISSAKE! Of course it has Christian content. And who really cares? The success of CS Lewis and his little Narnia Chronicles has very little to do with the Christian themes. It was because he told a pretty good story and captured the interest of kids. And the film will stand or fall by the same criteria. If the story ain’t any good, and they don’t tell it well, who gives a good god damn whether god approves. It’ll still bomb.

I’m pissed off at the media (CBC & others too) for trying to make an issue of it. It’s a commercial enterprise. If Disney wants to make Winnie the Pooh Goes to a Rave and Chills Out on E let em go ahead for all I care. This is not the same thing as Mel Gibson promoting The Passion of the Christ. For that matter, I don’t understand what all the fuss was about there, either. Lemme tell ya, if they get to the point where they’re telling me I can’t watch Ben Hur because it has Christian content and one of the extras died during the chariot race, there’ll be hell to pay, know what I mean Vern?

Now, I just reread the entire Narnia series this past spring. I can’t remember the first time I read LWW. I do remember that the series was introduced to us kids in class by a visiting librarian from the Lunchbucket Library. I don’t know about the other kids, but I ate them stories up. I bought the box set many many moons ago and I’ve read the whole series about ten times over the years.

This last time I was less impressed than I remember. Narnia doesn’t hold up as well as Middle Earth. But the stories carry some home truths like telling the truth, apologizing when you’re wrong or have been a nasty blighter, having faith, being brave, not letting pride overwhelm you, not eating too much Turkish Delight. What’s objectionable about all that? Even if Christ did say stuff like that?

I also don’t remember whether as a child I made any particularly Christian connections. Later on, you see them quite clearly, but mostly what I remember was the romance of kids becoming great kings and queens and getting to wear armour and talk like silly kniggits.

There is one interesting thing that I took more notice of in my last reading, though. In one of the books, The Horse and His Boy, the bad guys are clearly modelled after Muslims. They come from the south, wear pointy turbans like some sultan, brandish scimitars and have a bloodthirsty deity. Hmmm…some things never change I guess.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Calling the Guru from Afar

Sunday afternoon I dreamt of Lama Zopa Rinpoche. I think it’s somehow related to the fact that we recited the prayer Calling the Guru from Afar in the morning.

They say it’s auspicious to have dreams of your guru. And yet this dream was rather mixed in the feelings it aroused in me.

Perhaps this is because I’ve never actually met Lama Zopa Rinpoche. He’s my guru because he heads the organization in which I’ve received much of my Buddhist teachings. But I have a certain frustration over not having personal contact with this man who carries so much Dharma energy with him.

And that’s what the dream was like.

There were two, maybe three parts. I don’t remember anything about the first part. The next section started with my friend Annabanana. She suddenly appeared and (I presume) was going to give a little talk on literacy. She had with her a copy of the book on Universal Compassion, the Eight Verses on Training the Mind, which I had lent her. I asked if she was using that book and she said yes, indeed she was, implying that she was in fact going to use it in her presentation.

Next thing I knew, there was Lama Zopa Rinpoche, sitting on a throne, surrounded by monks and nuns, horns, drums, cymbals, the whole bit. In fact, we were suddenly in quite a large amphitheatre. My first thought was, now how did Annabanana manage to get Rinpoche to show up here? All my yearning to have a meeting with him, and here’s Annabanana pulling this surprise.

But then I got caught up in the surroundings, in watching Rinpoche, listening to him. Still, I couldn’t get very close. At one point, I walked up to the front of the section I was in, to a sort of railing. But it was still some distance from him. And there was too much activity. I eventually backed away, simultaneously content to watch and frustrated to have him so close yet so far.

Then, just as suddenly the event was over. Rinpoche got up with all his entourage and began to file out. The crowd rushed forward and we all ended up between two railings, as if in a paddock, lined up behind Rinpoche and the rest. Somehow I managed to be at the front of this line, but still not close to him. There were security or body guards just in front of me. And the crowd behind me began to push me forward.

Finally, Rinpoche’s group in front began to move with much fanfare. It was like a parade, with Rinpoche leading. But in fact he went in a circle. The front of the line, with Rinpoche leading, circled back in the direction from which we had just come. Suddenly I was amused. I wished I could tell the people at the back of the line just to wait and Rinpoche would come right around to them.

But he didn’t. In the twinkling of an eye, he just vanished. He never came back to the starting point. He simply disappeared. All that were left were the musicians and dancers dressed in traditional costume making a raucous noise as if to exorcise demons. I only shook my head and smiled, thinking, “Isn’t that just like a guru…?”

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Yoni School Election Watch Pt. 3: Dire Warning About the Dangers of Separatism

I had a good look at Gilles Deceit, the leader of the Floc Quebecois, on TV tonight. He looks supremely confident. He knows he’s going to blow the Gliberals out of the eau in Quebec. Even federalists will vote for the Floc because they’re so pissed off. Tabernac suitcase!

But I saw something else there, as well, which I hadn’t really noticed before. M. Deceit, with his careful coif of silver hair and finely chiselled, ruggedly handsome features, has a patrician look about him. Something of an aristocrat he is. And suspiciously French. I mean, Gilles Deceit looks French. Not Quebecois French. French French. As if he’s been sitting in Paris boardrooms sipping Perrier.

Therefore, I’ve come to the conclusion…and remember, you read it here first…that M. Deceit is not from Quebec. He is not pur laine. In fact, he is a plant. No, I don’t mean like broccoli. I mean, like a plant, a mole, a saboteur, a provocateur.

The question then is, who planted him? Not the CIA, not the FBI, not CSIS, not al Qaeda, not the Mossad, not the KGB, not MI5. Nosirreebob! It was the Gaullists. Gilles Deceit is a secret agent of the Gaullist party of…well…Gaul. In other words, il ne se souviens pas. Not Quebec for Quebeckers. Quebec for the French! Deceit’s secret plan is to rip Quebec from the heart of our beloved Canada and deliver it directly into the hands of the French Imperialists.

Mark my words, it’ll be another Algeria. Before long, Quebeckers will begin to whine and moan about domination by those arrogant French, who look down on them because zey hav zese funny accents. They’ll think they’re being treated as second class citizens. They’ll question their deportation from the picturesque Laurentians to the harsh, unforgiving wilds of Normandy. That’s when the trouble will start.

They’ll start raising ell. They’ll take that L and stick it between the F of Floc and the Q of Quebecois, and what will that spell? FLQ.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The Yoni School Election Watch Pt. 2

My esteem for Buzz Hardnose, leader of the CAW, fell dramatically today when he gave a ringing endorsement to Paul Martinette and the Gliberal Party. I’ve always been impressed with Buzz’zzz forthright talk on behalf of workers, but I swear when I saw him on TV presenting Martinette with one of those cool CAW jackets, his hardnose was streaked with brown. God, it makes me wish for a return of that rare but brilliant breed of unionist, the Indigenous Belligerent Bobwhite.

The prime party of union members has always been the NDP (aka National Deficit Party) or its predecessor, the CCF (Can’t Continue Forever). Well, that’s the Canadian mythology anyway. But the relationship between unions and NDP has always been also fairly tenuous. The Canadian Labour Congress would endorse the NDP and give them money too and then union members would vote for whoever the hell they felt like. Nevertheless, one could always expect a certain base of support.

But now! Now the NDP has the most interesting and dynamic leader it’s had for years, and what happens? The country’s largest union smacks it upside the head. This tells me either the union movement has abdicated its role as defender of workers, or the NDP is completely off the track.

I think maybe it’s the former. The NDP still has some principled stands. Neither the Gliberals nor the Constipators seem to have any principle other than what is likely to garner votes. This is not a recipe for consistency. Neither party has demonstrated a consistent policy with respect to the governance of this country.

Hardnose’s endorsement is one of mere expediency. It completely ignores the main reason the government fell in the first place, the question of integrity, ethics, honesty. The fact that he and his union can endorse a party with such large questions hanging over its head is not a good sign. Heaven help us if Buzz decides to take up politics in the future.

Archie & Jughead

One of the comic books I liked to read as a kid was the Archie series. Yeah. Archie. Jughead. The two girls...what were their names? One blonde and buxom, the other slim with black hair. Can't remember the blonde's name...was it Betty? But I remember the other one...Veronica. Cuz I had the hots for Veronica...

Anyway, was her last name Gray? Veronica Gray? Did she have a last name? Did any of em?

The reason I ask is because now, when I have a delivery to make, I see this woman who works as a receptionist for an engineering and consulting firm in Gwulph. Name of Veronica Gray. And she looks, to me, exactly as Veronica would look if she were, say, twenty years older. I haven't mentioned this yet, but maybe some day, if the appropriate moment arises. I wonder if anyone else has ever pointed this out to her.

Also, I wonder if anyone else has met comic book characters in real life?

I don't mean running into Mickey at Disneyland.

Song of the Day

Rag Doll by Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons

I remember we used to play this song in the early days of the band. Can't remember, though, how well we did it. That falsetto is hard to reproduce.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Yoni School Election Watch Pt. 1

So. Stephen Harpy of the Constipated Party of Canada has promised to reduce the GST by 1% right away, if elected, and then another 1% within five years. His primary opponent, Paul Martinette, the leader of the Gliberal Party of Canada, insists this is not the way to go. He says he will provide income tax cuts for all Canadians, especially those squeezed in the middle.

(This is a long aside but I can’t help it: has anyone ever noticed that the initials of the Constipated Party of Canada are exactly the same as those of the Communist Party of Canada? I don’t mean to connect any dots here, I just think it’s an interesting bit of trivia. The old Progressively Constipated Party of Canada had an interesting acronym too: PCPC. As in Politically Correct! Politically Correct! If you’re a Loblaws shopper or a US citizen, you might like the name President’s Choice Party of Canada. Can you imagine if the Yanks had a choice in a Canadian election? Whom would George W. pick?)

Back to GST. I actually heard Mr. Martinette, our once and former Prime Rib, say on the radio, “Look! (In that way that he says Look!) Canadians have been down this road before…”

No kidding. I’m more inclined to use the phrase, “Canadians have been down this garden path before…”

And just who was it that led us down that path? Why, none other than Mr. Martinette himself back in ’93, I believe, as the author of the Gliberal Ded Book in which he promised to scrap the GST. We remember that, don’t we?

This is all nothing but Canadian electioneering…mouseketeering… M…I…C…K…E…WHY? Because we think you’ll buy it.

What it proves to me is that neither of our biggest political parties have any economic principles by which they are willing to stand. It was the Constipated Party that instituted the GST! And the Gliberal Party which was going to scrap it! Fifteen years later the positions are reversed. But even that has degenerated. The Gliberals promised to end the GST. The Constipated Party now can muster only a reduction. How much you wanna bet they’ll keep that promise just as effectively as the Gliberals kept theirs? Especially if it’s a minority government situation?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

poor old Lucifer

poor old Lucifer
          deluded fool
who talked himself into
some kind of hell

you could shake your head
          at the irony of his name
for what light did he ever bring

but the reflection of pure mind?

poor old Lucifer
          couldn’t face
his conditional immortality

grasped instead
          at his sense of injury
thumbed his nose
then cut it off
just to make sure he was real

poor old Christians
          deluded too
by the thought of intrinsic evil

forgetting that god and light
          are one
and Lucifer light
and pure mind nothing but

poor old Christians
          solidify satan
inventing darkness for the sake
of light

inventing hatred for the sake of god

rather feel some compassion
for the bringer of light
who fooled himself into the dark

Remembering Tammie

I went to Tammie's memorial service today. I wonder how many people have friends like this: someone they consider a close and dear friend, but who they don't really know all that well. At least not in terms of their day to day lives. This is how it was with Tammie and me. We met ten years ago as members of a weekly or bi-weekly discussion group of seven or eight people. This group met for about two years, and during that time we had some intense discussions. But through it all, I remember a lot of laughter. We became friends.

Not really the kind of friends who hang out together, though. After the group came to an end we continued our friendship by establishing a tradition of a yearly barbecue for the members. And that was about how often I saw Tammie after that. Once a year.

But it didn't matter. We (all of us) had an understanding of one another and an appreciation of each others' life journeys. So we gathered every year for our barbecue, gossiped, laughed, talked turkey, talked serious, caught up with what everyone was doing.

I remember Tammie, during the discussion group years and after as well, as someone who was forthright, direct, completely in touch with what seemed right and just to her. But she was warm and funny too. Loved cats. Cats especially. She was intellectually agile and emotionally intuitive. She brought out the best in us and demanded honesty from us by her own unflinching integrity. She looked you in the eye and you just had to tell the truth.

Two years ago she came to the barbecue with her head wrapped in a scarf. She was undergoing chemotherapy. Much of the discussion that evening centred around how things were going for her. Not great, as it turned out...But she was not defeated. She was not daunted. She was fighting.

This past summer Tammie didn't make it to the barbecue. She had intended to come, but she was again having chemotherapy, and not feeling well that day. We gathered anyway, of course, a smaller group now, and talked about Tammie along with other topics.

A few weeks ago I received an email telling me that Tammie was in palliative care, but not really wanting visitors. So I didn't visit.

Until today. I'm sure gonna miss her.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

It was one of those variable skies days. In the midst of a sunshower, I thought to myself, "Somewhere there's a rainbow." This got me to ruminating how that might could be a song. Yeah, a bittersweet kind of ballad maybe. But I really was thinking that this was the kind of sky that would produce a rainbow. Sure enough, a minute later I looked to my left, and there it was. A perfect rainbow. Perfect if you overlook the fact that it wound itself into a cloud and popped out the other side.

I marvelled. I uttered self-congratulations. Clairvoyance it was. Thirty seconds later I nearly rear-ended the SUV in front of me. Thirty seconds after that the rainbow was gone.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

The Mantra Machine

That’s what those Chinese ladies in Richman’s Hill were. On both Saturday and Sunday, they/we began with a Morning practice. Virtually every practice includes what are called the preliminaries…the Refuge prayer, Four Immeasurables, the Seven-Limb prayer, offering of the Mandala…followed by invocations of the lineage masters, supplications, aspirations, dedications. This particular Morning practice also included a short Tara practice. Tara is a female deity who represents beneficial action on the earthly plane.

The Tibetan definition of “short” is not like ours. The Morning practice, done properly, takes at least one hour.

Tibetan books are also not like ours. Traditionally, they are loose-leaf sheets about ten inches wide and three or four inches long. The Morning practice book, including the Tara practice, is over 150 pages. But each one of those pages must include, at least in the west, the Tibetan script, a phonetic transliteration, and an English translation. So a single page usually only manages to have four lines of text at most. After four or five years of attending Tibetan teachings and rituals, I have managed to become somewhat comfortable with reading the phonetic versions (although they do not reproduce precisely the Tibetan pronunciations…you just have to learn some of the rules…) So, I can read along, chant along, if the pace is relatively slow.

But with these ladies it was utterly impossible. They motored along like Ferraris on the Autobahn. At most I was able to get the first two words and the last two, sometimes when I was able to look ahead, an entire phrase. Sometimes I knew the phrase, or recognized it. But most of the time I just followed along silently, hoping not to lose my place. I remember being at the Kalachakra initiation listening to the monks chanting, performing rituals in the mornings…it was really nothing but a drone to me. There are those who, with long familiarity, are able to join in. Not I.

That’s what it was like with these women too. Since I had the book in front of me, I could see how this drone occurred, the syllables and the techniques that were creating it. It’s a fascinating phenomenon to me. Everybody goes at top speed for as long as they can. When you run out of breath, you have to suck it in fast. Others are still going. When you start again, you might be at a slightly higher pitch, a different intensity, a syllable behind. It all mingles to create a hypnotic, undulating rhythm, punctuated now and then by brief silent mantras, low murmuring mantras, bells and even finger snapping. (All of which have a specific purpose I can’t necessarily explain.) In addition, many of the prayers have a certain melody which is used for the chanting. Through the course of the Morning practice there are, I think, two different melodies, each with their own rhythm. I’m embarrassed to admit, being a musician, that for some reason these melodies do not stick with me. They’re not hard or complex. But I can never seem to remember them afterwards. (Something karmic happening there, I think.) In five years, I’ve learned one melody – the one that goes with Om Mani Padme Hum – and I think that’s because it reminds of a Native American type of melody. I can imagine rain dance drums beating behind it.

The women were obviously well-practised in the Morning ritual. In fact, Lama Phuntsok said it was just like being in the monastery…(except that these were women…) But they recited just as quickly in the Manjushri practice, which I thought they might not be very familiar with.

The Sunday, especially, was a day devoted mostly to ritual. That’s what the women want. They value the devotional aspect. But since it was an empowerment, I think Lama Phuntsok insisted on giving them some teaching as well. Devotion is one thing. But the reason why we have devotion, the meaning of the Dharma, is the heart of it all. So he taught – what the Vajrayana means, why we visualize Manjushri…and the women seemed to appreciate it.

I have the impression these women, seven or eight of them, are the backbone of this Dharma centre. They organized. They cooked! Cooked for Lama Phuntsok and the rest of us too. Fabulous meals. They cleaned the centre. Looked after the altar and shrine. Water bowls, candles, all the statuary. They prepared the food and materials for the tsog (which is an offering ceremony). They take care of Lama Tashi, the resident Lama. They are devoted. To the Dharma. To the centre. To the Lama. Fine examples of guru devotion. And I suppose that’s why their practice consists of devotion, moreso than instruction and analysis. Did Francis of Assisi analyse the birds? I think not.

They have something to teach westerners about valuing Dharma and its teachers. I guess, really, it’s not so different from a congregation making sure the minister has what he needs to tend to the flock. But western Dharma practitioners are still somewhat rare. We’re not sure how to take care of the Lama. And by and large, we’re not especially rich. A wealthy benefactor is what every Dharma centre needs. And devoted practitioners.

Making Offerings

Lama Phuntsok told us that when we visualized making offerings to the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, we should think about the things we like, the things we  think are good. So, he said, if you think that this car, say a Mercedes, is good, then that’s what you offer. He brought it very down to earth. Of course, we can offer the entire universe. There’s nothing wrong with this. But it is good to offer the things that have value for us. This pleases the Buddhas. You offer the thing you would most like to have yourself. (That’s why we say, “my body, wealth, and enjoyments…” – all the things we most like to have…)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Oh my God! They've killed Kennedy!

I was nine years old when JFK was shot. I remember how the news came over the PA system at school. It was a quiet moment at school. The class was doing some kind of written work. Everybody at their desks. I can’t remember what it was we were working on, but I do remember how calm and quiet it was. And then the principal announced that Kennedy had been shot. I’ll never forget the chill that went through me then. I don’t think the news of anyone’s death has affected me, either before or since, in quite that way. It’s always said how this was the end of Camelot. I think it was the end of some sort of innocence for me too. I went home at the end of the day and watched the film over and over and over. There was nothing else on TV. Nothing else happened in the whole world that day. Now that I think of it, I wonder if this was not the first assassination of a major figure ever broadcast on TV.

JFK was a hero to us kids. At least to me he was. I was intrigued by his Massachusetts accent. I read the book about his wartime experience in Guadalcanal, PT109. Saw the movie. Watched him on TV. I read his book, Profiles in Courage. I was really impressed with his wife. What a babe, eh? Even at ten I knew that. I already had the beginnings of political consciousness. I knew there was something going on with that president. Something important. I didn’t know quite what it was, but I felt something. Every school kid knew his famous inaugural line…ask not what your country can do for you…a line which he borrowed, but it didn’t matter.

And let it not be forgotten that all of Canada felt a kinship with his presidency, and with the US in those days. Our entire school took the day off to watch his funeral on TV. Not at home. At school. A Canadian school spending a day of mourning for a foreign president. I can’t imagine what comparable event there might be today. Yet, to me, it demonstrates how Canadians have always mourned with Americans during their times of tragedy. This has not changed…through 9/11, the disintegration of space shuttles, and lately the devastation of hurricanes. It proves to me as well the enduring friendship of Canada with the people of the United States…even when we don’t like what they’re doing in the world.

Kennedy’s presidency is really a question mark. It might well have ended in disaster anyway, once he decided to engage in Vietnam. But it’s sad that the US seems to have a predilection for destroying its bright stars just when they’re on the point of illuminating some universal truth.

Spam spam spam spam

Pseudonym of the day: Herculaneum F. Troopers

Monday, November 21, 2005

Being Manjushri

I went to Richmond Hill this weekend for what you might call a mini-retreat. Actually, teachings and an empowerment by Lama Phuntsok. This is the first empowerment I’ve received from Lama Phuntsok, despite having known him and attended his teachings for four years. And, interestingly, he was giving it in Richmond Hill, not in his own centre right here in good old Lunchbucket.

I don’t know what’s behind this. Except that the centre in Richmond Hill is quite active, populated by a group of Chinese women, mostly, who are devoted to their devotion.

What I mean by that is this: most westerners are attracted to teachings. They want to hear the dharma, learn the doctrine and philosophy of Buddhism. In contrast, most Asians grew up with this. They know it by osmosis. Or perhaps some of them don’t even really know it. What they know is the ritual. The devotional side of Buddhism. I think many westerners are baffled by the rituals of Tibetan Buddhism. And with good reason, you might say. Buddhism is the most rationalistic religion in the world. Tibetan Buddhism, on the other hand, is encrusted with jewels, gods and goddesses, incense, candles, bells, implements, drums and cymbals and blaring discordant horns. Chanting! Mantras, mudras, mumbo-jumbo. And at the end you are reminded that all of this is like a magician’s illusion.

Which brings me to the empowerment. This was an Anuttarayoga empowerment, one of the higher tantras…permission to generate oneself as the deity Manjushri. Manjushri is, among other things, representative of wisdom. He brandishes both a sword, which slices through ignorance and delusion, and a book. There it is again…the word. That’s one of things that Dharma is…the word of the Buddha. And ultimately, each deity, each protector, has his or her own set of words…syllables, really…which is the mantra. The mantra is a sort of magical incantation…syllables of power…but more than that, because emptiness pervades all, the mantra is also the essence of the deity. It is the essence of the Dharma. The mantra is the speech of the Buddha which is not different from the mind of the Buddha which is not different from the body of the Buddha. Which is not different from our own body, speech and mind.

The empowerment is a process by which the supplicants, us, request and receive permission to visualize ourselves as this deity. In effect, we are practising what it would be like to be Manjushri (in this case), to have the purity of his view, his mind, his compassion, his omniscience.

Tibetan Buddhism is a complicated affair. I’ve found that virtually everyone has gaps in their knowledge. You need years and an intensity of dedication just to achieve some awareness of all the paths and byways available. That’s why, very often, conversations revolve around what practice someone is undertaking. Not so much the homilies of the Buddha, but the specific ritual or focus one is using to uncover the truth of those homilies. There are some practices which are common to every yoga and every tradition, but after that, it seems that each path is quite individual.

Shit, I don’t know what I’m talking about. At the moment I’m having trouble formulating consecutive thoughts.

What I’m trying to say is, Manjushri practice is one of these. It belongs to the class called tantra, or Vajrayana…the diamond path, the indestructible path. I’ve had some difficulty determining what the tantric path is all about. In spite of the fact that I’ve received several tantric empowerments. This is what I mean when I say it’s complicated. Sure, I’ve read all kinds of stuff, but somehow I haven’t quite grasped it.

You need a teacher, and this past weekend Lama Phuntsok demonstrated precisely why. Vajrayana practice has two stages called the generation stage and the completion stage. I’ve read this lots of times. Didn’t get it. Lama Phuntsok, in a few words made it clear. The generation stage means generating yourself as the deity. Starting with visualizing yourself as the deity. The goal is to gradually refine this visualization, add detail, make it as real and brilliant as you possibly can. Simultaneously, you are also visualizing the same deity in front of you. Front generation and self-generation. You work with the qualities of the deity. Compassion. Wisdom. You work through your own afflictive emotions and feelings, with the awareness that you are inseparable from the deity, that you have all the same qualities as the deity. That you are in fact the deity. That’s the generation stage. At least that’s what I understand of it. I read this lots of times. It took Lama Phuntsok’s words to make it clear to me. Then the completion stage begins when you recognize this self-generation as not different from the deity and all his magnificent qualities and you begin to perform the kinds of actions that deities are capable of. You begin to develop the power they possess.

Sorry, I’m babbling.

Because, you see, when it comes right down to it, it’s imperative to recognize that this deity, Manjushri, has no solid existence! We’re imagining it! We’re creating it with our thoughts! Just like we create everything else. We create Manjushri and the process is no different from the one by which we create our own self. The only difference is that we imagine Manjushri as the essence of wisdom and compassion, while normally we imagine ourselves as imperfect, miserable, selfish, fallible, angry, happy, full, forlorn, covetous. And that’s the lesson we’re supposed to learn. It’s the reason the Buddha is omniscient. It’s the reason the Buddha has limitless compassion and wisdom. And generosity. And equanimity. So we imagine ourselves that way and call it Manjushri.

Later, if you can stand it, I’ll write more about how these Chinese ladies in Richmond Hill do their ritual.

Song of the Day

You Can't Hurry Love by Diana Ross & the Supremes (or Phil Collins later).

Monday, November 14, 2005

Song of the Day

Rip van Larry sez: the last thing I remember was sometime in the 70's
Ride Captain Ride by Blues Image

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bruce Springsteen: Early Avatar of Rock & Roll

Remembrance Day

I can no longer pass Remembrance Day without shedding a tear. As years go by you hear more and more stories of how these wars affected people, nations, families. The horror that so many lived through, and died in, is virtually incalculable. It’s tragedy and courage which is incomprehensible to me, who never had to endure this sort of thing.

I believe there are only five veterans of WWI still alive in Canada. All over 100 years old. That war occurred nearly 100 years ago. The war to end all wars. It’s hard to comprehend the conditions those soldiers must have experienced. And WWII is sixty years old this year, a whole new level of horror built of steel and chemicals and atomic energy. Human flesh was never meant to stand against this. It’s remarkable that human spirit can do so.

Still, I heard another important bit of war history on CBC today. The number of US soldiers killed in Vietnam was eventually surpassed by the number of veterans who returned from Vietnam and ultimately committed suicide.

One final thing. The mayor of Toronto said something profound this morning at the remembrance service there: That phrase, “the war to end all wars”, still resonates with us. What we need is a peace to end all wars.


Patrice Desbiens - Poet Laureate of Timmins

I don’t listen to Shelagh Rogers as often as I used to listen to Peter Gzowski. (Actually, I never listen to anybody. Listening is not one of my strong points. People want to tell me things, people want to order me around…I become querulous and uncooperative…Maybe that’s why I don’t pay much attention to Shelagh, she’s too soft and agreeable for me, too adoring of those she interviews…)

All this to preface a piece she ran (“interview” by David Gutnick) on Patrice Desbiens, a bilingual poet from Timmins who apparently has become a star in Quebec, the best-known poet in the province, perhaps one of the greatest French language poets living. He resists interviews…has issues…but his eventual conversation with Gutnick was interesting. Gutnick, trying to get him to talk, asked him to read a poem. Desbiens replied, “I don’t feel like reading a poem.” Gutnick asked him how he comes to write his poems. Desbiens asked, “How does a hockey player score a goal?”

Here’s what I got from the CBC website: Patrice Desbiens latest book: Desarmé is published by Les Editions Prise De Parole in Sudbury, Ontario.

I really haven’t been reading much poetry lately. (Actually, I never read poetry. Reading poetry is not one of my strong points. People poeticate at me, people want to lift my soul from the depths of depths of depths of…I become somnolent and uncommunicative…Maybe that’s why I’m in the Yoni School…)

Where was I? Oh yeah, Desbiens…I think I’m gonna try to find some of his stuff. Practise my Français. Oui oui…ja ja…nay nay I say…bonjour qu’est-ce qui se passe?

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Pseudonym of the day: Roman Lint

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Song of the Day

Smoke From a Distant Fire by the Sandford-Townsend Band

(Update June 5/07: Smoke From a Distant Fire is one of my favourite pop songs of all time. It has everything you could want, all in three and a half minutes: a memorable riff, equally memorable refrain, ear-catching lyrics (Don't let the screen door hit you on your way out...!), both a guitar and a sax solo, a breakdown in the middle, call and response (song title over and over with variations) as the song comes to a close, and a tight, firm ending phrase. Perfection.)

or alternatively
Lightning's Striking Again by Lou Christie

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

Spam spam spam spam

Another email spammer's name: Rapists V. Consumption

Don't you just hate the ones that start with, Hello Dear, or Dear One.


Song of the Day

Land Down Under by Men at Work

Cosmicat Rubs Up Against the Buddha's Leg

I have a rather elaborate Buddhist altar in one end of our rec room, and not far from this is Cosmicat’s favourite resting place, a love seat which Suzy Homemaker brought from her old house and which was Cosmicat’s favourite place there as well. It took quite some time for her to figure out that it was the same place in a different location, but now it’s where she is most likely to be found.

For some reason I have noticed this more especially in the last few days and have decided that this is, as the Buddhists say, auspicious. Cosmicat likes to hang out and rest and nap and dream where the Buddhas are.

Tonight I decided to do a short Chenrezig practice. Chenrezig, the Buddha of compassion. Of course, Cosmicat was there. As soon as I entered the room, she was watching me. And as I lit the candles, offered the incense and performed prostrations, there she was…underfoot so to speak, demanding attention. When I sat down on my meditation cushion, she interposed herself between me and the little table on which I keep my prayers and literature. As cats do, she rubbed her cheeks against whatever was available and finally climbed up onto the table.

Then, after I had rubbed her head with the Dharma book, she took an inordinate interest in my mala (rosary). She wanted to play, of course, because the mala has little dangling bits that she would be attracted to, but I figured a mala was about the best thing possible.

They say it is beneficial to recite mantras into the ears of animals, planting seeds for future lives. Cosmicat received a rainbow shower of Manis tonight as I recited the practice, and indeed she sat still for all of it.

When I was done I picked her up and took her to the altar, showing her all the images and statues, and reciting the mantra of each.

Shakyamuni Buddha: Tadyatha om muni muni maha muniye svaha

Medicine Buddha: Tadyatha om bekhandze bekhandze maha bekhandze radzaya samudgate svaha

Chenrezig: Om mani padme hum

Vajrasattva: (long one) Om Vajrasattva samaya manupalaya Vajrasattva denopatistha dido me bhava sutokayo me bhava supokayo me bhava anorakto me bhava sarva siddhi me prayatsa sarva karma tsutsame tsitam shriyam kuru hung ha ha ha ha ho bhagavan sarva tathagata vajre mame muntsa vajre bhava maha samaya sattva ah hum phat

Tara: Om tare tuttare ture svaha

Cosmicat listened carefully to them all. But she seemed to like Chenrezig’s and Vajrasattva’s the best.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Googling Larry Keiler

OK, so I googled myself. Took several hours to clean up the mess. You'll all be pleased to know that Larry Keiler doesn't exist. Anywhere. Except right here.

And a good thing too. Last thing I need is a visit from the Canubian Revenue Agency.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Spam spam spam spam spam

How about this name purported to be the Sender of a spam email having something to do with software: Ellen H. Syphilizing

Edmonton...Part 3

What is there to do in Edmonton on a Saturday afternoon at the end of Oktober?

Well, if the weather is nice, which it was this past weekend, although a little chilly, you can go up to Whyte Ave. and the Strathcona section of town and hang out with superannuated hippies (like me) and hardy western patio latté sippers bookstore browsers art gallery appraisers.

Or you can go to West Edmonton Maul. Been there. Done that. Got the sweatshirt. (I’m not joking. A few years ago, I had a sweatshirt specially embroidered with those exact words at the West Edmonton Maul.)

If you’re from out of province it’s almost obligatory that you engage in some kind of shopping. Why? No provincial sales tax! So I did. I bought two things, big ticket items as they say.

One: my new cell phone. A little early for this one. The old one was working fine, but the battery was beginning to seem a little iffy. Off to Telus downtown, a block away from my hotel. This turned out not to be such a big ticket item, though, because (unlike DT) I signed up for three years, since I need it for my other work anyway. Cost me 50 bucks (no sales tax but still the infernal VAT, or GST as those placid Canucks call it). However, I had to go through technohell to program it. Or rather the inexperienced sales clerk/Saturday manager went through technohell, because for some reason the phone had been previously programmed for Alberta of all places and needed to be reformatted or otherwise dumped in an acid bath so that it would respond to an Ontario accent. And after that I discovered that none of the speed dial or Mike numbers had been transferred to the new phone and so I spent a good portion of the next 2 days doing this by hand after basically figuring out how to work the damn phone by trial and error because the manual’s a piece of crap.

Two: an iPod. See, over the last couple of years I’ve downloaded small stacks of Buddhist teachings from the Internet. I won’t say Buddhist monks/teachers are long-winded. But many of these files are too long to fit onto a CD. What to do? They’re taking up space while I decide to listen to them as I type up my weekly blogette. So I bought an iPod. Oddly enough, the installation of software to my computer went well. But not well enough. Something was not quite working. A day later, the iPod informed me it needed to be reformatted as well. Restored was the word, I think. Restored? It’s brand new! The Sistine Chapel needs restoration! The Roman Catholic Church needs restoration…(sorry, that was reformation wasn’t it?) Not my brand new iPod. But sure enough, after being restored it began operating just as all the pdf userguide tutorial help pages assured me it was supposed to. Now I have my ears iPlugged with Dharma. Yeah, I’ve put some music on it too.

Edmonton...Part 2

Flying is no fun anymore. Was it ever?

The Air Canada people are pleasant enough. But now you have to pay for everything…even the utterly inadequate pieces of navel lint they’ve been passing off as pillows for years. And it’s not as if Air Canada was WestJet, offering cheap fares in return for cheap service. We, the band, are apparently forced to use Air Canada because it is the only airline left that allows us to get our equipment on board without the hassle of having to send it by cargo plane (ie a whole separate trip), but I fear this will change in the near future too.

The Buddhist smoker is obliged to practise infinite patience. One of the six perfections.

I will say one thing. Security and all that blather was less blathersome this time around. Everyone is getting used to the new normal. In other words, no one is questioning the insanity of it all.

The new terminal at Hawgtown Internutsified Hairport is like something out of Arthur C. Clarke. I don’t think I need to say anymore. When I walk around there I feel like an alien just in from Alpah Centauri.

But I have an example of how complex things sometimes fall out of synch. Park’N Fly. In the new terminal they have these little phone kiosks that are supposed to connect you with various services…transport, hotel, what-not. Parkiefly is one of these. When you arrive at arrivals you go out to the kiosk, press the appropriate smudge on the screen and plug in to Parkersfly. The idea is to let them know you’re home and want your car back, assuming it hasn’t been trashed by unscrupulous employees and their shady associates. (An event which occurred to us several years ago.) To do this, you have to punch in a code number which you received when you abandoned your vehicle to the vicissitudes of Spark’N Pry. Unfortunately, the spiffy kiosks with the touchscreens and 21st century telephone receivers have no number pad. So you have to hang up from the kiosk and go find the pay phone and use the 1-800 number. Then wait for the bus. Then…then…then…about an hour after arriving in Hawgtown, I was finally on my way back to the arrivals level to pick up the equipment being guarded by my brother.

Finally, speaking of kiosks. At the Edmonton Wilderness Trek Airport, they’ve apparently instituted new procedures guaranteed to extend your stay. Now you have to go and arrange your tickets at the ticket kiosk. OK, fine. That’s assuming there’s someone there to tell you that this is what you have to do, which in this case there was, although she wasn’t all that clear about it. But after you’ve done that, you still have to go to the check-in counter. Why, I don’t know. And then! Sometimes you’re not in the system (like 4 members of our party of 9). In this circumstance, you have to go to a different check-in counter, labelled Triangle. Why it’s called Triangle I don’t know, except that it means you’ve been triangulated out of your seat by technological overlap.

Meanwhile, the line of unfortunates waiting to submit themselves to the indignities of aluminum tube travel stretches approximately half the length of the terminal. Have you noticed that our culture of queueing is really beginning to resemble postwar Europe? Again...bodhisattva patience required and an uncanny ability to not notice these things, or at least disregard them, not to mention accepting them as inevitable consequences of this degenerate age.

Travellers! ID this. ID that. IDeedyDooDoo.

Edmonton...Part 1

I know this is old news already, but most of my life works that way. Always several days behind.

Last weekend I was in Edmonton playing for the yearly Oktoberfest to Rocktoberfest at the Shaw Conference Centre. The other band was Trooper. I have to say, Trooper has got to be one of  the best rock bands in the country. Yeah, a bunch of old guys (I know, DT, what is old, anyway? Not as old as Mick Jagger maybe, but relatively speaking…old…old as rock…old as mountains, the rarefied heights of rock…brought down to earth and a picturesque valley in Alberta viewed from a glassed-in escalator winding down the side of the hill…I’ll never forgive you for denying me the use of the phrase “old guys”….)

Where was I? Oh yeah, Trooper…old guys who are masters at putting on their show…I remember seeing the Trews last year (and they were at the Halloween show this year too), watching their finale and thinking, “This is old stuff…I saw Lighthouse (or Steppenwolf or Alice Cooper or Springsteen or any number of bands) doing exactly this thing thirty years ago. For that matter, Trooper is probably doing pretty much what they did thirty years ago too…but then it was original and interesting and it was theirs. It was not Trooper imitating Spike Jones. Or even Elvis.

Anyway, these guys are great. If you get a chance to see Trooper, go go go. If you are of a certain age, you will sing along with every song.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Meditation Files #4

Jamyang Khyentse Chökyi Lodrö said, “Look, it’s like this: When the past thought has ceased, and the future thought has not yet risen, isn’t there a gap? Well, prolong it. That is meditation.

Here is what I experience. It is possible to prolong or, in the first instance, notice the gap between thoughts. But this applies only if I limit my definition of thoughts to discursive thought. If I take into account the totality of perception, however…the pain in my back, the sound of  floors creaking, the colour of the wall, the play of shadows, the tension at the back of my tongue, incense, music, breathing, the movement just at the edge of peripheral vision, the way my hands rest on my knees…on and on…there are no gaps. Discursive thought stops or slows just long enough for me to perceive some other object.

But then, they say also that thoughts in themselves are not a problem. In fact they are utterly natural. And inevitable. So are other perceptions. The problem arises from our grasping after thoughts. Following the story line. Getting involved. Mere awareness of thoughts or other perceptions is not a problem.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Sand Mandala at C2G2

Out on a day pass today from the Yoni School. Suzy Homemaker and I went to view the sand mandala produced by the Namgyal monks at C2G2.

What a marvellous, intricate piece of work. Textured and nuanced. Flanked by a small Buddha altar, complete with dorje and bell, Shakyamuni Buddha thangka, water bowls, food offerings, candles and incense. In C2G2!

A mandala is a representation of the palace of a deity. Tibetan Buddhism has a whole raft of deities, a catalogue of initiations for those who desire them. Each deity has his or her mandala, all similar, each one different, each one unique. But they all have the same sort of floor plan. Several floors (reproduced two-dimensionally) which is what makes the mandala design. Four great entrances representing the cardinal points.

This mandala had no deity at the centre, on the top floor, only a lotus. The lotus is replete with symbolism too, of course. And it is the flower which represents Chenrezig, the bodhisattva of compassion, whose mantra is Om Mani Padme Hum, probably the best known of all mantras, capable of propelling one swiftly along the path of enlightenment if recited one-pointedly and with great faith. So even though Chenrezig is not depicted at the centre of the mandala, I suppose you could still say it is Chenrezig’s mandala.

Of course mandalas are stylized. Each figure carries symbolic meaning. Still, they are intricate artworks. Their creation requires great concentration. How easy it would be to apply too much sand in one spot, or breathe or sneeze at the wrong moment. And what do you do? Start over? Unfortunately, I couldn’t ask the monks because they weren’t there.

Not only does the sand mandala represent the deity’s palace. It also represents the universe. Which is why sand is the medium. Meant to instruct us on the fragility of our reality. One puff and it’s all gone. Sand represents the emptiness of all phenomena. Full of colour, fantastic and beautiful forms. Completely impermanent. In fact, the mandala is created for the express purpose of wiping it away in the end. This to remind us of all the time we spend foolishly pursuing worldly, ego-driven, ego-grasping, ego-clinging, ego-fixated goals which, in the end, cannot deliver the satisfaction we really crave and will be scattered by the winds of death and impermanence anyway.

PS. I just realized that saying it would be easy to sneeze might be misleading. The monks wear masks while creating the mandala, for that very reason. No fans nearby either.

Also, there was an interesting installation there too...a giant Buddha head surrounded by racks of plaster hands in various mudras. All placed in pull-out "bins". The public is allowed to write on these hands with markers provided for the leave messages on them for the people of Tibet.

Hey! Macarena 3

The Macarena was a no-go. Why? Because the crowd of Donauschwabens was definitely not of the butt-wiggling sort. Somehow we were misled about the relative age (and hipness) of these Hawgtown Schwabs. Methuselah would have been a spring chicken compared to most of them. Even the venerable old Bird Dance was too much for them. They sat at their tables staring at us while we played it…except for about six younger ones who pitied the poor band struggling to get old farts to show signs of life.

I’m exaggerating a little. Most of them were quite old. But as long as we played music that they liked, which meant heavy on polkas and waltzes, they danced a lot and obviously enjoyed themselves. But they were unexpectedly reserved too. I think they were too cool to be silly with the Bird Dance. Too much Schwabische dignity. I can imagine the expressions of horror if we had tried to induce them to Macarena wigglebutt.

John Robarts' Hat

J. Clive’s a funny guy sometimes. Known him for six years or so now and still finding out small details…little stories he tells now and then.

Like tonight…with his Oktfest gear he wears a green felt hat that looks good on him…not exactly German style, but close. Tonight we were out smoking during a break and we got talking about hats because my crazy bal’head is turning into a freezyblue col’head…or will soon. Talked about the Biltmore hat factory in Growlf. It’s been bought out by some guy from Kentucky because he wants to reproduce the fedoras of the 40’s and 50’s…like Bogey used to wear. Apparently they’re cool again.

Anyway…J. Clive remarked that his hat…a Stetson manufacture…was the hat of former Ontario Premier John Robarts. I said, “Now that you mention it, it is like hats I’ve seen Robarts wearing in pictures.” But then, a second later, it clicked. “You mean, that hat is actually John Robarts’ hat?” I asked, and J. Clive said it was. He was friends with Robarts’ son in the 60’s. They hung out at the Robarts cottage, summers, up Lake Huron way. Speeding on the back roads. Getting crazy drunk. Taking advantage of being the son of the Premier. One day at the cottage, J. Clive picked the hat off a peg on the wall and put it on. The Premier told him he could keep it. So nearly 40 years later he still wears it, and it’s still associated with beer.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Hey! Macarena 2

Tonight I spent an hour or so putting finishing touches on Macarena. It sounded good. Then I decided to rename it since it was going under the name Maca3, ie the third version of it. I wanted to change it to, what else? Macarena. So I did. Now, you have to realize that this keyboard works like a computer. DOS style. Only 8 characters allowed, then a file designation like exe or doc or whatever. In the case of the Korg, the file extension is .SNG (for song). Macarena is eight. So I renamed it.

All of a sudden it had disappeared. Wouldn’t load. Something illegal had occurred according to the message that kept coming up. For some time, I was frantic. I turned the air blue with what’s known in Buddhist circles as harsh language. Fortunately it wasn’t directed at anyone (except maybe myself). I saw a minimum of fifteen hours work going down the drain. Plus not being able to make the Donauschwabens wiggle their butts.

Only one thing gave me any hope. The display showed a file there. It was the same size (88Kb) as the previous Maca3 file. I don’t know what inspired me, but I decided to rename it again, this time adding .SNG to the end of it. That worked! The file came back, just as it had been before. Talk about relief.

And I learned something. See, an ordinary computer (or the program at least) adds the file extension automatically. The Korg didn’t. Now I know I have to do it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Hey! Macarena

I’ve spent the last four evenings working at my keyboard. No, not the typinglike one, the pianolike one.

Doing what? Making a version of the Macarena. We have a gig this Saturday in Hawgtown playing for Donauschwabens. No, not Dachshunds. Dachshunds would want to hear…oh…You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog…How much is that doggie in the window…Black Dog by Fred Zeppelin…Move it on over (in which George Thorogood frequently says, “Move over little dog, a big old dog is movin’ in…) That’s what Dachshunds want to hear. Donauschwabens want to hear the Macarena. So they can slap themselves all over and wiggle their butts. (Like a Dachshund?) Come to think of it, the Macarena is sort of like the Latin version of the Schuhplattler!

The Macarena is now at least 10 years old. I used to have a version of it, sequenced, on my old keyboard. It was a pretty good version. But unless you’re fluent in Spanish, it’s a bitch to sing. It moves very quickly. But the old Peavey keyboard is dead. And we hadn’t played the Macarena for a long time, and I didn’t like to sing it anymore (not knowing what part was coming up next cuz we never played it anymore…) But the Hawgtown Donauschwabens said it was one of their big tunes of the night…so…I’ve resurrected it on the new Korg. No, not the Corgi. I don’t think Corgis and Dachshunds would really get along. Anyway, we’ve never played for Hawgtown Donauschwabens before. We have played for Lunchbucket Donauschwabens many times over the years. But not the Hawgtown ones. So we want to impress them, eh?

Ve must gif ze peeples vhat zey vant, ja?

Sunday, October 16, 2005

The Altitude Song

I have to correct a serious oversight in my postings.

Voin has been working on a CD of original songs for well over a year. Two, maybe. In the last year it has really begun to blossom and come together. It so happens that I’m playing keyboard on most of the tracks. Some singing too.

Last Wednesday, Oct. 12, Voin’s tune The Altitude Song had its first public airplay on 1090AM…OK, I know, not the hippest station in the country, but what the hell, it’s something.

The reason I mention this is because the end of the tune has a spoken word piece written by me, let’s call it Those Boys Were Crazy.

I didn’t get to hear the first play on radio. But I sure hope it gets more, and what’s more, that the CD creates a bit of a buzz for Voin. He’s a good songwriter…knows how to make good hooks…especially lyrical hooks. Pretty good with woids.

More information on this: the album is to be called This One’s For Kenny. It’s a reference to Kenny Hollis, who you might remember as the omnipresent MC at Lulu’s for many years. Well, Kenny was also the lead singer for that famous Kitchener 70’s band Copper Penny. Voin was the first guitar player in that band, and the guy who wrote most of their earlier hits. Kenny died a couple of years ago, and Voin never really had a chance to say goodbye the way he wanted, so this album is his way of doing that.

He called on the talents of a bunch of friends, all old rockers from way back, ‘cep fer me, Mr. Polka Head, and basically got ‘em all to do it fer nuttin. And that’s because being involved in a good project with good talent is more fun than work. Slowly the songs have come together. I’ve been able to hear many of them from the absolute beginning…guitar and voice…to nearly finished product. The transformation is sometimes amazing.

Anyway, a bunch of old farts getting (get this, my Werd program won’t let me drop the ‘g’ in getting) getting gittin together to rock and roll…well, count-ry too and other odd things. Watch for this CD. According to Voin, labels are interested…Call up yer local DJ and ask him/her when he/she is gonna start playin that Altitude Song. OK?

Oktoberfest Events (The Last Waltz)

I heard for the second time that the man who collapsed at the tent on Friday night did not make it. This is a sad thing. Sudden and unexpected (although perhaps not unpredictable since it was confirmed that he had a triple bypass only a few weeks ago). It casts a pall on everyone’s memory of Oktoberfest. I really feel sad for the people who were with him and his family.

My own final moment of Oktoberfest for ’05 was also something sudden and unexpected. Extremely unusual too. After we were done, as my brother was in the process of saying final goodnights, a young guy came bounding up the stairs. He grabbed my microphone and started to shout into it. One of the security guards was right behind him and took hold of him, trying to pull him back down the stairs. I, meanwhile, began to wrestle with the young guy for the mic, which was still on its boom stand. He wouldn’t let go. I had the mic. He had the mic. The stand was wobbling. My music book went flying. He still struggled to hold on. Wouldn’t let go. Suddenly I saw his big white face wide open in front of me. I gave him a left jab. Not too hard.

He let go of the mic and fell back into the waiting arms of the security guard. The last thing I heard him say was, “Hey! That guy punched me!” I don’t think he got too much sympathy from the security guard. In fact, later, the supervisor came to me and said, “My guy says thanks for the soft landing!”

Well, to tell the truth, I surprised myself. It’s fifteen years or more since I punched anybody. I don’t even know how to do it, really. Which was a good thing for that guy. Really, it was just a little tap that startled him enough to make him let go.

People’s reactions struck me, though. One audience member, another young guy, came up right after and shook my hand. He was of the opinion you can’t let people get away with that shit. Steffie Jr., 21 years old, was also impressed. J. Clive reminded me that self-defence is justifiable even in Buddhist terms.

This wasn’t self-defence, really, but protection of one’s “territory”. On the weekends, especially, because they are so busy, we struggle with keeping people off the stage. They get drunk. They get exuberant. Mostly they’re just having stupid fun, but you can’t allow it to migrate onto the stage. Too much expensive equipment. And if one gets up, it’s like an invitation for more.

So I smacked him upside the head. Too weird.

Mental Blog Repair 1

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