DDO sorcerer

The Luxury of Masochism

The awesome new online Buddhist magazine, Prapañca Journal, included one of my India stories in their second issue on the theme of "Four Protections." It's about modern-day austerity, the search for new adventures in testing limits, and the kind of privilege you have to have to seek out testing experiences.

Rajasthan bus that's seen better days.

It's called "The Luxury of Masochism." Please read it and let me know what you think!
DDO sorcerer

a man with a gun walks into a bank

A few days ago, I learned, through Facebook updates from friends and family, that a man with a gun was holding hostages at a bank in my hometown, Kearney, Nebraska. By the end of the day, the hostages had been released and the gunman taken into police custody, and I was spared the anxious phone call to find out if anyone who died was someone I knew. No one died in that bank. The gunman had been recently unemployed, and his demand, while taking hostages, was for coverage by a news crew from the local TV station where he had worked.

"Can you imagine this would happen in a place like Kearney?" people asked, and I have to say that yes, I can imagine. No place is safe from the desperation that people can be driven to.

But the anomaly I see in this situation, the missing piece of the puzzle. Unlike the apocryphally quoted bank robber, the Kearney gunman didn't really care where the money was. He wasn't attempting to acquire any of the bank's assets. He wanted attention, wanted to make a scene, and that scene could have been made at a bank or a Kwicky Mart or a bowling alley. Why a bank?

Maybe the reason I'm wrestling with this question is the fear that I know why. In recent months, Netflix has sent me the movies Quick Change and Inside Man, and those certainly aren't the only time I've been at the edge of my seat, watching a movie where hostages are huddled around a bank lobby, waiting while criminals negotiate with the police surrounding the place.

Maybe I bear a tiny fraction of the blame, then. Because movie-viewers like me will pay attention to hostage situations, they make more of them, and people in real life get the idea. Hollywood has given us such a compelling image, a fine metaphor for the wits-end situation that the gunman found himself in. It's logical that he'd follow through.

There's increasing belief in the theory that mental illness is to some extent a product of social connection. This article looks specifically at the syndromes we see in America, and the way that Americanized treatment may influence the kinds or expressions of mental illness we see elsewhere in the world. And the question for me is whether the level of mental imbalance is a constant and the expression is a variable, or whether the society creates this. That is, if the gunman hadn't had the mental "virus" of thinking that a common way to express deep resentment and rage is to hold a bank hostage, would he have refrained from any harm? Or would he have simply found another way, another symbol, another outburst? This is something I really can't know, and that's puzzling. I can't know definitively that hostage-movies are to blame for this, and I can't know definitively that they aren't. I can't know whether the alternate reality would have had no significant news from Kearney that day, or if without the trope of hostage situation, the trope that might end peacefully, I would be hearing much darker news. Time won't tell. That's the troubling thing.
DDO sorcerer


When Scott, the assistant organizer of the International Meetup, told me he was thinking of hosting a Super Bowl party, I thought he meant that he was going to email invitations to a few of his closest friends on the Meetup. Instead, he put it openly on the website. We were both a little puzzled when a handful of people who had never come to a meeting before made RSVPs, but I chalked it up to my own not-quite-getting sports. I mean, I can see the appeal of going to a Super Bowl party with some good friends, but I can't see why someone would watch with a bunch of strangers at someone else's house. Maybe with strangers in a bar, but I don't know.

The three none of us had met before were Ming, Abby and Vanessa. (And now I backtrack to say that because it's the International Meetup, I understand why someone would come to a stranger's football party if they were Chinese. Maybe it's better not explained.) Ming had gone to college in Indiana, and he arrived wearing a Colts t-shirt. Vanessa had commented on the website that she LOVES football! and she was attentive for the first twenty minutes of the game. Then she started chatting with Abby and did not stop until the game was over.

There was plenty of food--everyone brought something, and everyone brought lots. Scott had picked up giant cookies at an Italian bakery. I was the first to try one, a peanut-butter cookie with chocolate frosting that I nibbled away at for an hour. I told him I hated myself for how much I loved that cookie. I told him that in a few days I'd ask him where he got the cookies and he needed to promise me he wouldn't tell me.

During one of the less-entertaining commercial breaks, we mostly turned to the middle of the room and, because a commercial for CSI was on, talked about crime procedural shows. Then we talked about shows with hokey plot twists, and Vanessa mentioned some kind of five-year plot jump in the series Ghost Whisperer, saying it was hokey.

Scott laughed. "What do you expect? It's a show about someone who whispers to ghosts."

Vanessa shifted in her seat. "You mean, you don't believe in ghosts?" Scott, taken aback, mildly noted that he doesn't. Vanessa said that it didn't matter whether he believes in ghosts or not, because they're real.

This led to a spirited debate (oy vey, the pun) between Vanessa and Abby. Vanessa's central claim was, "Ghosts must be real, because I see them all the time." Abby's claim was, "Ghosts can't be real, because Jesus would never let that happen."

After the game wrapped up and people filed out, a core group of four of us stayed to gossip about the people we just met. "What was that about?" Scott asked. We agreed that we'd never expected that a Super Bowl party would become a supernatural debate. Scott said, "I knew I should just say out of it, but then 'drew, you started making fun of them."

I said, "Really?" I couldn't remember making fun. Scott assured me that once the ghost conversation started I turned to him and put on a spooky voice to say, "Sco-o-o-o-ott! There are gho-o-o-sts in your apa-a-a-rtment!" And once he mentioned it, I had to admit it was probably true. I chalked it up to being possessed.
DDO sorcerer

Books Read 2009

For the first time, I kept track of all the books I read in one year. There's some observation bias at work; I sometimes made it a point to finish a book on principle when otherwise I would have moved on, and I think I read fewer anthologies and the like, because bits and pieces of a book wouldn't count for the rules I made up for this silly little list. But here are the books, trivial or profound, for scholarship or entertainment, those I sought out and those I stumbled upon in closeout bins. Not all are necessarily recommended, but I'd be happy to talk about any of them if you're curious. Linked to Google Books.

Bring Me the Rhinoceros, John Tarrant
Connect, Web Worker Daily
A Buddhist in the Classroom, Sid Brown
Zen Wrapped in Karma Dipped in Chocolate, Brad Warner
The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, Andre Comte-Sponville
The Thief and the Dogs, Naguib Mahfouz
The Sinner's Guide to the Evangelical Right, Robert Lanham
Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within, Kim Addonizio
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles, Jennifer 8 Lee
X Saves the World, Jeff Gordinier
Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World, Mary Pipher
Get Known Before the Book Deal, Christina Katz
The Maharishi Effect, Geoff Gilpin
How to Work a Room, Susan RoAne
Joyful Wisdom, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, John McWhorter
The Life You Can Save, Peter Singer
Why Beautiful People Have More Daughters, Alan S. Miller, Satoshi Kanazawa
The Glass-Maker's Daughter, V. Briceland
The Living Buddha: An Interpretive Biography, Daisaku Ikeda
The Raft Is Not the Shore: Conversations toward a Buddhist-Christian Awareness, Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan
Three Mistakes of My Life, Chetan Bhagat
The Elephant Paradigm: India Wrestles with Change, Gurcharan Das
Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, Geoff Dyer
The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, Jane Mayer
Stealing Buddha's Dinner, Bich Minh Nguyen
Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writer's Guide
Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, Greg Epstein
How to Make Friends and Oppress People, Vic Darkwood
Libyrinth, Pearl North
Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist - One Woman's Spiritual Journey, Jan Willis
Turtle Feet, Nikolai Grozni