Back from WisCon this week, with just a little bit of ConCrud stuffiness head cold thing as our parting gift. We managed to escape the WisCholera, for which I am profoundly grateful.
A couple of people at the con said that they missed me blogging, which was a spur to my actually doing something about the repeated thoughts I have about posting.
I had a book due on the 19th, one of the non-fiction children's books I've been writing for hire. This one is about Saskatchewan. Turns out, Saskatchewan is kind of boring. I'm writing it for a packager, a new company owned by the folks who were my editors at Crabtree before we all got laid off. This series of books is for Scholastic. My editor is pretty much the bestest editor ever and wrote me just before the deadline to say that the first book in the series just came in and it was taking her longer to do than she'd expected, largely because it wasn't so great. She extended my deadline by a couple of weeks because otherwise the manuscript was just going to sit on her desk. On the one hand, I was happy not to have to rush to finish. On the other, of course writing work expands to fill the space before the deadline, so on some level I would have been happy to just finish the fucking thing and turn it in. We got back from WisCon late on Tuesday night, then I had a board meeting for the Buddhist group (more on that later) on Wednesday night, so it was Thursday before I finished the last little bit that needed to be done. I was really unsure that it was any good at all, because these province books are really episodic and difficult to write, and they're for a younger grade level than what I've done before. Younger is harder, trust me. So I sent it off with much trepidation, but my editor emailed me the next day to say that she peeked at it briefly and she was very happy with it. Thus was I made very glad and relieved of the need to fret about it all weekend long. Like I said, best editor ever.
I was offered a book on the solar system for the same age range by a different press, but I turned it down, after considering it very seriously. The book was four times longer than the ones I have been writing (which is actually a bit easier) but the pay was advance on royalties instead of flat rate (which is unusual for work-for-hire). The advance was slightly less than I usually get for writing the shorter books, so the numbers just didn't add up. It would have killed any chance of developing my academic editing practice further and probably my getting any fiction written for the next six months, between the revisions on the Saskatchewan book and the other book or maybe two that I'm doing on the provinces. I'm working a part-time office job right now, so I've got a little bit of steady money coming in, which means that I can afford to say no and also that I don't really have time to take on any more jobs for hire and still get anything else done. If I were going to take on much more freelance-for-hire stuff, I'd have to quit my day job. I'm pretty much at capacity given my energy levels at present. It's too bad, though; writing a book about the solar system is a lot more interesting than writing a book about Saskatchewan. I could regale you with many trivial and not terribly interesting facts about Saskatchewan but I think the folks at WisCon had enough of that already. I have hopes that I might be assigned to write the book on the Yukon because - Yukon! But with my luck, it'll be Alberta and/or Manitoba, the other two provinces most like Saskatchewan. However, World Fantasy is in Calgary, Alberta this year. Maybe I could go and do some research. I still feel weird about writing a book about a province I've never gotten anywhere close to.
Is anyone out there planning on going to World Fantasy, by the way?
Um, let's see. The house still isn't finished, but it's inching closer. Some people are supposed to come finish the basement floor in the next couple of weeks, and the masons are supposed to be coming to repoint the chimney and foundation sometime by the end of the summer. I planted some pansies in the flower boxes on the railing of our front porch, which made me very happy. When we first bought the house last fall I thought about how I would like to plant pansies in those boxes, and now I did. My mom's coming in a few weeks to help work on the landscaping, so that will be cool. We planted some bulbs in the fall but the squirrels are apparently landscaping critics and dug them all up and replanted them in different places. They ate some of them, of course. And then ate the flowers off the ones that came up. So that was pretty much a bust, except as a method of entertaining/feeding the squirrels. It was kind of fun to see where the squirrels replanted, though, when they started coming up in the spring. So there was some entertainment involved for us as well.
I have started doing meditation and chanting with this Buddhist group here. It's a very small group that's meeting at someone's house right now. This is our Rinpoche. I've been interested in Buddhism and reading about different flavours of it for many years now, and sitting meditation off and on (though seldom as regularly as I would like) but I've never really practiced before. Tibetan Buddhism is fairly fancy, with lots of deity-like beings and lineage-holders that one can chant to, and lots of pretty art and things. This particular flavour also seems pretty forgiving, as opposed to some kinds of Zen, for example, which can be pretty fierce and all about striving. I don't really need encouragement to be more striving. We have monthly video conferences with Rinpoche, who lives in LA and travels a lot, and he comes to the Niagara Region about once a year to give teachings in person.
Rinpoche says, in brief (and in his totally cute and rather Yoda-like Tibetan accent): don't upset; don't rush; be happy. I like "don't upset" a lot, because its lack of grammar allows a dual meaning – don't upset yourself and don't upset others. But all three are cogent and important directives, none of which I manage to remember with any regularity at all. I tend not to upset others, but I upset myself a good bit, and rush, flap, fret, and forget for days to realize there is no reason not to be happy. So, good reminders, all. Not complicated, but then at its core the dharma isn't.
I asked him to speak for a bit about the student/teacher relationship. He said there are three teachers (Buddhists love to enumerate things), to paraphrase: 1) your physical teacher, whom one is always lucky to have, who gives the student the great gift of passing along the dharma that has been passed to him/her from his/her teacher (the implication here that there is an unbroken line of transmission down from Siddhartha himself) but who is only a human being and flawed; 2) books and texts; 3) the most important, the student's own Buddha nature, the knowledge that comes from within. And that was all he said about that.
I found this interesting and wonderful in a couple of ways. I really like the emphasis in Buddhism on individual judgment and empiricism, that everything should be tested in your real life and abandoned if it doesn't work. The Dalai Lama said that if science somehow managed to disprove reincarnation definitively then Buddhists would/should stop believing in it, though he added that he couldn't imagine how an experiment could be designed that would do so. There's a strong streak of anti-establishment in the dharma that appeals to me. I like the idea that the most important teacher is one's own sense of intuition, of internal knowing, the Buddha within.
I also think that it's interesting that he didn't address the actual *relationship* between the student and the teacher, per se. He made no mention of responsibilities or duties on either side, except that the teacher does the service of passing the dharma that was passed to him. Which is, of course, an answer to the question of duties and responsibilities in and of itself, one which I'll probably be puzzling over at greater length.
I feel like I've stumbled into something strange and profound without meaning to. On the one hand, I don't expect much, having schooled myself in cynicism in parallel with schooling myself in science fiction as a child. I don't expect Rinpoche to be the Yoda to my Obi-Wan. I expect him to transmit the dharma, which is pretty fucking cool on its own without attaching a whole bunch of baggage to it. On the other hand, every time I've spoken with him and asked him a question, he's given me an answer that surprised me with its wisdom and simplicity, and offered me something out of the exchange that I wasn't quite expecting. There's a depth there that seems to transcend logic. I feel like I *do* have a relationship with him, even though we've only interacted a handful of times.
There's something about it that is similar to how I felt about my relationship with Jeff at first. It seemed ridiculous that I could fall in love with somebody after knowing him a week, allow him to start moving furniture into my apartment after two weeks, but it was like it was an already done deal. I could either accept it, or I could start throwing up a whole bunch of roadblocks for no other reason than I didn't really understand how it had happened, which seemed pretty stupid. Love isn't necessarily about logic. Likewise, it's illogical to make a commitment to any religious path at all, really, to sit and chant in a language that I don't speak, to pay attention to some random Tibetan guy in maroon and saffron robes whom I don't really know. But somehow this just seems to have happened, and I can either accept it and go for it, or I can back off because it isn't logical and that's scary. But hey, the thing with Jeff's worked out pretty good, and fuck it, I'm curious to see what will happen.
So, I'm officially Taking Refuge when Rinpoche's here in October. There's a ceremony and you get a Buddhist name. It's basically a conversion ceremony, to the degree that the concept of "conversion" applies to Buddhism (i.e. not so much). I have to speak to Rinpoche more about what vows may apply, but I've been trying to follow the Five Precepts and the Eightfold Path already for years just because it seemed like a good idea. From what I understand, taking refuge is often associated with vows to keep the five precepts, but they're actually two separate steps that are often done together. Anyway, doing the refuge ceremony feels like a big step to me, an official statement on my part that I'm committed to this path and to following this particular teacher. After years of being a sort of spiritual and intellectual dilettante, it is a gesture of seriousness.
And that's probably enough for now. More to follow on a more regular basis, I hope. I have big plans to start blogging more again, and file a big pile of papers on my desk, and to start working on fiction again at least a bit. That and $3 will get you a latte, so who knows. Probably at least some of that will happen.