Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Right Speech

The Buddhists have things like the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and all like that as underpinnings of their moral and ethical system. Can’t really call it a religion, since the concept of a deity doesn’t apply — you can believe in God or not, it doesn’t matter to the rest of it.

Um. Anyhow, the path has a lot of “right” ways to function in it — right livelihood, right action, right thought, and so on, and one of them is “right speech.” Recently, I came across an article that laid out three criteria for right speech that I thought were most useful.

Before bespeaking matters of import, consider your comments in these lights:

1) Is it true?

2) Is it necessary?

3) It is kind?

Most of the time, I have no trouble with the first two. If I didn't believe a thing is true, then why would I bother to say it? I write fiction, I get to lie all I want, and even then, the made-up stuff has to have some core of truth to it.

And in the context of a conversation, I also wouldn’t say something if I didn’t think it was necessary.

So, right off the bat, two out of three.

The last one is trickier. “Kind” in this instance doesn’t mean not giving offense, nor does it mean selflessness. “Kind” here, I think, means sometimes the best thing to say to offer education or advancement. If you have a piece of spinach between your teeth and you are going to a job interview, telling you might be embarrassing, but it is definitely kinder than not. It is for your own good.

If I believe your haircut makes you look so bad you won’t get the job, better to say so than let it pass. If you are dressed inappropriately. If you are bogarting a joint in your stoned lips ...

I think maybe “kind” also goes to intent, and that's where I tend to fail that part of the test. If my idea of education is to point out to somebody how stupid they are being, that’s not kindness. Although I can rationalize that as, "Well, if he knows he's saying stupid stuff, maybe he won't say it and that's to the good side. 'Better to be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt,' and all like that. I'll know he's stupid, but maybe nobody else will."

Thing is about stupid people is, if you could convince them of the error of their ways with a couple of well-chosen words, then they wouldn't be stupid, ipso facto.

Ignorance is easily cureable, you just provide knowledge, presto; stupid, unfortunately, goes all the way to the bone ...

Ah, well. The road to self-realization is, as the Lovin' Spoonful said, not always easy, it's not always kind ...

Ho, That's a Good One on Me!

One of the spiritual writers, whose name I cannot, alas, at the moment remember for sure, save that my wife calls him "Swami Chet," (I think he is "Chetananda") has a saying. When he finds himself in a situation that might piss off ordinary folks like me, instead of getting angry, he laughs, and says, "Ho, that's a good one on me!"

I don't know why that strikes me as so wonderful, but I really, really like it. I've been trying to apply it -- not always with success -- to situations that normally start my pressure cooker roiling.

Today, I went to Costco and loaded up on things like paper towels and toilet paper, which you buy by the ton and have to haul to your car with a forklift, for those of you who have never been in a giant box store.

The Costco aisles are huge, wide enough at this particular store for two big flatbed carts to pass each other with room to spare. And yet, there are people who cannot seem to negotiate such a path with a single wire cart without being able to block the aisle entirely. They seem totally oblivious to the rest of the shoppers, in their own world, unable to notice that a line of people waiting to get past has formed. If you have the temerity to clear your throat and say, "Excuse me," more often than not, they glare at you as if you have just spat upon them.

Who are you to demand passage? they seem to think. Can't you see I'm busy here? That I can occupy as much space as I wish for as long as I desire?

Now that I think about it, it seems that I get behind these people on the road in my car fairly often, too. (If I get more than two cars behind me while I'm in my camper, I feel obligated to pull over and allow them to pass, even if I am traveling at the speed limit.)

Um. Anyway, used to be, I'd just stand there in Costco and steam. Then it came to me that by allowing myself to get irritated, I was essentially giving control of my emotions to an obnoxious stranger so self-centered that she (and I have to say it, they are almost always women) lacks the most basic courtesy most of us learned as children.

So I decided instead to smile, and think, "Ho, that's a good one on me!"

This does two things: First, it amuses me to find amusement where before I would be angry. Second, that big smile and standing close catches their attention, and for some reason, they almost always smile back, and then move -- which is what I want anyhow.

Maybe you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar after all.

Or maybe that big rictus on my face convinces them I might be one of those about-to-run-amok psychotics who plans to start with them.

Either way, I'll take it ...

Next time, I'll talk about the Buddhist precept of "Right Speech." Not that I am a Buddhist, but I do like some of their moral and ethical codes, and this is a neat one for judging one's communcations.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another Busy Week

Now and then, one of those busy periods pops up and you wonder how you are gonna find the time to get things done.

Sunday, we drove to the coast for a overnighter in our camper, my wife and I and the dogs, coming off a long period of not being able to get away. Came home yesterday afternoon, and in the ninety-five degree heat, unloaded -- and then watched my wife get into a cleaning frenzy, restructuring the kitchen ...

Today, I talked to my collaborator Reaves about the current Star Wars book-in-progress, exchanged email with my editor on the Bunch book -- she likes it, and it looks as if editing will be minimal -- then I went and was fitted for rental tuxedo for a wedding Sunday evening. Daughter of a writer I know is getting married, and they are going all out.

Of course, this wedding comes immediately after a weekend getting the stuffing thumped out of me at the annual Silat Sera Seminar, which is this time being held at a shooting range in Portland. Gotta like that. Shades of bringing knives to a gun fight. I hope I am not too battered and having to explain the limp and/or black eye to the other wedding guests.

My agent is in town for the wedding -- she has a couple of other clients who are local -- and there is a get-together for her at one of the other writer's houses, but it is Sunday afternoon, and I can't make it because I'll be getting stuffing thumped out, and all.

Between now and then, I have lunch with an old buddy, and need to get some writing done. Fortunately, I have but two books in harness at the moment, and only one of them has a deadline. No yoga class this week, it's the break between summer and fall sessions, but I do have silat on Thursday.

With any luck at all, my new guitar will get here this week, in time for my birthday, which is Thursday. (Today is my wife's birthday, and we will celebrate that when she gets home from work.)

Probably doesn't sound like a lot to somebody who has a Real Job in the Real World, but it is enough for me to feel busy ...

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Punchlines ...

"Yes, but -- this one is eating my popcorn!"

"Man riding my bicycle!"

"Wendy? No, mon, it says 'Welcome to Jamaica -- have a nice day.'"

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Mushtaq's Knife/The Gangster Conspiracy

A while back, I mentioned a book and a knife; the latter by Mushtaq Ali al Ansari, the former by Chris Bunch, with help from my son and myself. I thought you might like a short preview of both, so hereunder a draft of one chapter:


Jasmine was unhappy with herself. She had practically tripped over the guard before she saw him -- the building was suppose to be empty, he wasn’t listed on the work roster! -- and at that point, he had seen her. She thought about running, but decided that a blaster bolt in the back wasn’t on her preferred menu, so she’d stood there. “You got me,” she said. “I surrender.”
At the moment, he had a grip on her left wrist, and his free hand was pulling back to slap her silly. They obviously hadn’t hired the fellow for his sensitivity and appreciation of art and flower-arranging abilities. He was a thug, looked it, off-the-books, and appeared as if he was going to really enjoy pounding her, to judge from his wicked grin.
And of a moment, time stalled, and it seems as if the thug was moving in extreme slow-motion, like a vid of a bullet piercing an apple, sooo slooowww ...
She had all the time in the universe:
Consider, say, weapons ...
Everybody had favorites. Riss had a boot snubbie she usually carried when working; Goodnight liked the military-issue stuff because that’s what he had been trained with; von Baldur favored an antique piezo-capacitor bolt-thrower that looked like it belonged in a Space Ranger vid and took forever to recharge. Grok had to have a large-frame blaster because his hands were so big. And those were just the shooters. For very close work, or when silence was necessary, there were other tools.
Jasmine favored the little knife the old Sufi Mushtaq Ali al Ansari had made for her, the Tiger’s Claw.
The tigre was a smallish thing, blade under nine centimeters long, with a fat, rounded handle about the same length, making the sheathed knife easy to hide on a belt under a jacket or even a loose blouse. Mushtaq made his knives using the lowest of low-tech methods in a traditional manner, hammering and forging the high-carbon tool steel by hand, using gas-fed firebrick ovens and open fires and anvils and suchlike that would have been at home back in the dawn of space flight, even before. He was more than passing adept as a knifefighter himself, so he knew how to build a knife that would hold up and do the job.
The tigre was slightly concave on the edge side, with a Turk’s knot guard at the base of the blade and a handle made of exotic wood -- walnut in the case of Jasmine’s knife -- permanently bonded to the full-tang. The knife was curved from tip to butt, with the point and end of the handle that could be joined by a straight line almost like a bowstring.
The blade had been clay-tempered -- so that the edge was hard and able to be made very sharp, while the main part of the blade was springier and not at all brittle. The edge had a visible temper line, where the clay left off, called a hamon. There were styles of ancient swords wherein these hamon lines had become quite complex, and whole texts had been devoted to the study of the patterns, which were often given fanciful names, like “clover-tree flower mushroom-shape,” or “Chrysanthemum and River.”
Not being stainless steel, the tigre’s blade had to be kept protected from rust. Some people favored lightweight machine oils for this, standard industrial lubes. Jasmine’s preference was a fragrant -- and very expensive -- sandalwood oil.
Jasmine wore the tigre in a cloned-leather sheath that carried the knife point down and edge forward. She had learned to draw the knife quickly from this style of carry, holding it in what knife-fighters called the ice-pick grip, point down, edge forward ...
All of this passed through Jasmine’s thoughts in a couple of heartbeats, driven by the fight-or-flight syndrome effect called tachypsychia -- the sense of crystal-sharp vision and hearing, the subjective distortion of time so that her thoughts sped past while the man next to her moved so slowly.
The thug who had her wrist gripped tightly in his left hand as he drew his right hand back preparing to slap her didn’t know any of this. His intent was to beat her senseless, and since he was a quarter meter taller and probably fifty kilos heavier and built like a high-gee weightlifter, likely didn’t anticipate that such a beating would be any problem.
Time shifted back to normal, and Jasmine said, “Your sister is a parakeet, isn’t she?”
The thug blinked. She could almost hear the gears grinding in his head. Say what? My sister ... ?
It was a nonsense phrase designed to give a listener pause for a second as he considered it. All she needed was half that.
Jasmine snaked her right hand under her blouse, found the rounded handle of her knife, and drew it, a move she had practiced a thousand times. The blade slid from the sheath smoothly, coming up in front of her just as the thug realized he might need to worry.
He changed the intended slap into a more efficient punch, making a fist and driving it at Jasmine’s face --
She raised the knife to block and angled it to the side slightly. The reverse-tanto clip-point lined up with the inside of the thug’s right wrist. Jasmine leaned her head slightly to her left, using the man’s grip on her to leverage herself a bit, but kept the knife angled, just so --
The thug’s arm hit the point of the knife and because the limb was bigger around all the way to his elbow, the force of his punch drove the razored tip deeper as the arm came in. By the time his now-open hand reached the spot where Jasmine’s head had just been, his arm was flayed from the wrist to the antecubital fossa, the inside of the elbow where the biceps tendon, the brachial artery, and the median nerve all resided. A bad place to be cut.
If he didn’t bleed out, it would take an ER medic quite a while to glue or staple that wound shut, but nobody was going to bother, because Jasmine stepped in, reversed the motion of her arm so that her palm faced up, and gave the stunned thug a gaping new mouth, right across his throat.
Nobody was going to be stitching that up in time to do him any good.
She stepped back. The thug, pale and going white, fell to his knees, then collapsed, face down.
What a great knife Mushtaq had made, she thought, as she bent to wipe the blood from the steel onto the dead man’s shirt.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


So, Nate's surgery went well; heart is repaired, and he is, as of this writing, in the pediatric ICU recovering. We are shifting back and forth baby-sitting the other boys and going to the hospital.

Nate is off the ventilator, breathing on his own, and will probably be transferred to a regular room tomorrow. Probably will be in the hospital another three or four days past that, all going well.

Parents and all four grandparents surviving, if a bit tired.

Monday, August 14, 2006

May You Live in Interesting Times ...

Next hour or so, my daughter and son-in-law are arriving to drop off their two dogs for a few days -- they were supposed to go to the coast with her in-laws, but even though the in-laws had to cancel, they'd already reserved a room, and it's the only time my son-in-law can get off work.

A couple extra dogs are not so much, I can walk them in shifts; however, tomorrow morning early, our newest grandchild, Nate, is having open-heart surgery. Two months old, ten pounds, and a hole between the ventricles that can't wait any longer for repair.

All things going well, he'll be in the hospital a week or so, and my son and daughter-in-law will be going back and forth. T
here will be some shuttling about of the two older boys while Nate recovers and parents are away. The other grandparents have just arrived from England to help out -- and wasn't that a pleasant flight?-- not allowed to bring anything onboard save their ID, in plastic bags. I can' t even imagine flying nine or ten hours without three books and five magazines.

(Don't look now, but the terrorists are ahead on points; a handful of malcontents have dictated the way the world works. Goes back to the Cuban hijackers, then the Tylenol-poisoners, now the plane bombers. What you eat, where you go, how you get there. The future isn't nearly as shiny as it was supposed to be.)

Dogs, kids, hospital, in-laws,
work -- it appears that the Chinese curse has come to roost closer to home, for a few days, at least.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Chris Bunch

Chris Bunch, who passed away just over a year ago, was a book writer, TV writer, and editor. Among his novels were the Star Risk, LTD. series, a trio of slam-bang space operas about a group of kick-ass mercenaries.

As a Vietnam vet -- he was a LRRP, in the 82nd Airborne Division -- Bunch saw his share of real war, and that stuff always rang true in his books.

He led a colorful life. Edited a biker magazine, wrote for the L.A. Free Press, and did a shitload of TV writing. Worked in La-La-Land living high on the hog for years.

When he bailed on Hollywood and moved north, to Washington to concentrate on books, I reviewed one of this novels for the local paper. I liked it a lot and said so. He called to thank me.

Shortly thereafter, Bunch got into a serious discussion with a bunch of bikers who lived nearby. Bunch was not a man to back down from anybody. Things escalated, and the bikers decided that stomping Bunch's head in was at the top of their to-do list.

As one of the larger ones charged across the yard to attack him, Bunch came out of his house with a 9mm handgun and shot the attacker dead. More than one round, though I never heard the exact number. At least a double-tap.

The local law hauled Bunch away, and when things were all sorted out, he was freed and the incident was deemed justifiable self-defense. Apparently the witnesses who would have lied otherwise all had outstanding warrants, and weren't around to testify ...

Some days later my phone rang, and it was Bunch calling: "Hey, young Perry, how's it going?"

(Gun people will understand my following response. As a point of information, for those of you who are unfamiliar with handguns, there is a long-standing argument in this arena regarding the efficacy and stopping power of calibers, and probably at the top of the list is the ".45 versus 9mm" discussion. Real-men favor .45's, and sneer at those who use wonder nines.)

So what I said to Bunch was, "A nine? You shot him with a nine? What, you didn't have a real gun?"

Cracked him up, that one. It was the kitchen piece, he said. His .45 was upstairs, he had to make do ...

That pretty much broke the ice.

He told me that he had gotten a number of responses regarding the shooting. These ranged on the one end from "Oh, my God, you had to shoot somebody! How awful for you! To take another human life! Are you getting counseling?"

The other end of the spectrum came from an old Army buddy: "Yeah? What kind of grouping did you get?"

My response was close enough to that to gain me points. There was a bond established.

We talked on the phone every month or so, had beer and lunch at the local science fiction conventions thereafter.
We exchanged information about the writing biz, gossip, working tidbits about knife-fighting and martial arts, like that. I found myself as a walk-on character in his third Star Risk novel, a "salat" teacher named "Stiff Perr." I stuck him into my Matador novel as a Flex fighter, "Creestofer Cluster ..."

Bunch had a fuck-you attitude and he didn't take any shit from anybody. That's how he lived, and that's how he died.

I am sorry he is gone, and happy I had a chance to know him.

Almost in the Can ...

After a marathon nose-to-the-grindstone month-and-some, the book upon which I have been working is done.

Well, the first-draft is done. I still have to do a quick rewrite, and then address editorial input, but at least I can lean back and coast a bit instead of pumping the pedals furiously in the the seven-days-a-week tour-de-keyboard I've been running, (and without any banned steroids to help, at that ...)

The book, which had to be finished before next week, is in the Star Risk, LTD. universe, by Chris Bunch. This is the fourth and final novel, working title of which is The Gangster Conspiracy. Space opera, not much in the way of plot or character development, rockets and ray guns, bodies hither and yon, all like that.

I hadn't intended to write this novel, or at least not very much of it. It came about when my friend Chris Bunch, after a short illness, passed away. He had outlined the book, but hadn't started working on it when he died. I offered to write it, provided my son Dal could work with me, to help out Chris's significant other, Karen, and to give my son another writing credit. (He has collaborated officially on one other novel with me, the novelization of the animated movie Titan AE, and done uncredited work on several other books.)

Unfortunately, life has a way of throwing curves at you. My daughter-in-law, who wanted a third child, became pregnant, which was good. The pregnancy was beset with some complications, not the least of which was the looming specter of pre-eclampsia, and times became most challenging for my son and daughter-in-law, mentally, emotionally, and physically. Not so good. My son didn't need another brick on that load, so I stepped in and wound up doing most of the work.

On the one hand, it's good to know I can still do a sprint if I must; on the other hand, working smarter and not harder is definitely the way to go.

Next posting, I'll offer up a bit about Chris Bunch, and how we became friends.