Thursday, December 7, 2017

Attitudes on Alcohol

More Martinis with cats.
Since it’s that time of year when many people get really, really hammered, I thought I might share a few thoughts about alcohol.

I enjoy the occasional adult beverage. That much should be obvious by the photo at the top of the page of me raising a Martini and saying “Cheers!” to my cat Dobbin as well as the various booze-related posts I’ve written. 

However, I do not enjoy drinking to excess. Even though I’m closing in on 50, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been drunk. I didn’t like it, and I don’t like being around people who are drunk. I have only very rarely even been buzzed. To some extent, I credit my mother. She was a moderate drinker with a rather European attitude towards alcohol, and that reflected in her parenting. When I was a kid, it wasn’t a big deal for her to give me a sip of whatever cocktail she was imbibing or a glass of champagne on New Year’s Eve. Because of this, alcohol never seemed like some mysterious, taboo temptation to me. When I turned 21 and was legally able to buy alcohol, I was happy to have the option but I didn’t go crazy.

Even more Martinis with cats.
Most of the time, if I drink alcohol at all, I mostly just have a glass of wine or a beer with dinner. Once in awhile I might treat myself to a mixed drink. At various times I’ll even put limits on myself, such as only drinking on weekends or abstaining altogether for a period of time. In fact, I’ll probably abstain for a month or two after the holidays have passed. I don’t do this sort of thing because I think I have a drinking problem. Partially I do it for self-discipline and/or fitness goals. Partially I do it to make sure alcohol stays “special.” I don’t want to fall into the habit of always having a glass of wine or always having a beer. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just isn’t the road I want to go down.

Also, as a martial artist, I find getting drunk runs counter to my motivations for being a martial artist. I train first and foremost to protect myself, my loved ones, and innocent beings. If I’m inebriated, my ability to do that diminishes greatly. Besides, one of the key elements of self-defense is awareness of your surroundings. That awareness goes out the window when you’re drunk. It’s also worth noting that alcohol is a factor in about 40 percent of violent crimes committed in the U.S. On college campuses, a whopping 95 percent of all violent crimes involve the use of alcohol by the assailant, victim, or both.


Alcohol itself is not a bad thing. Our relationship with it can be. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Books Read, Midway Through 2017 Edition

I am way behind on my reading (and blogging) this year. There are a few reasons, such as general busyness and taking the time to catch up on some periodicals, such as older issues of "The New Yorker," "New York Review of Books," and "The Atlantic Monthly." Plus, reading Mervyn Peake's took more time than I imagined. It is a brilliantly written novel, but the language is so rich and dense I had to read a bit slower to take it all in.

Now, without further delay, here is an alphabetical list of the books I've read in the first half of this year. So far, my 2017 reading has been heavy on fantasy and Buddhism.

FICTION
  • Calix Stay: The Circle of Light, Book 3 by Niel Hancock
  • The Chronicles of Solar Pons by August Derleth
  • Dhampir by Barb and J. C. Hendee
  • Faragon Fairingay: The Circle of Light, Book 2 by Niel Hancock
  • A Feast of Sorrows: Stories by Angela Slatter
  • Lost Worlds Vol. 1 by Clark Ashton Smith
  • Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings
  • Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings
  • Squaring the Circle: The Circle of Light, Book 4 by Niel Hancock
  • Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Thought of the Day, January 17, 2017: Lao Tzu's Treasures

"I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures."
—Lao Tzu

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

This One Goes to 11: Favorite Books Read in 2016

As a follow-up to my Books Read, 2016 list, here's a list of my favorite 11 books in two categories read last year, in no particular order. 

FICTION

  • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (An excellent weird horror tale that has some similarities to the first season of True Detective, though the novel was written before the TV show aired.)
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley (A dreamy fantasy story of beekeeping, love,  and fire worship.)
  • Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier (The start of Marillier's Blackthorn and Grim series. At times dark, it is ultimately an inspiring story about the main characters' struggle to overcome their tragic pasts.)
  • The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen (One of the earliest weird horror stories, and one that writers such as H.P Lovecraft acknowledged as an influence.)
  • Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue (Classic fairy tales beautifully retold, often with a feminist twist or two.)
  • Pax by Sara Pennypacker (A heart-wrenching book about a boy forced to abandon his pet fox. Also very powerful in its anti-war sentiment.)
  • The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Another book by Beukes. Brilliantly combines the serial killer and time travel genres. Kudos to Lauren Beukes for not romanticizing the killer and for humanizing his victims.)
  • Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (This also has a True Detective, season one vibe, but with some Wes Anderson overtones as well. Really.)
  • A Wild Swan and Other Tales by Michael Cunningham (And another book featuring witty, well-written takes on classic fairy tales and supernatural stories. His version of "The Monkey's Paw" is especially good.)
  • Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier (And yet another retelling of a fairy tale. This one is a novel based on the story of the Twelve Dancing Princesses.)
  • The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits: Stories by Emma Donoghue (More Donoghue brilliance. All of the stories in this volume are inspired by obscure historical events. It's one of the most mind-blowing story collections I've ever read.)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Five Ways to Improve Hand Speed

Many years ago, I was at a bar and witnessed an interesting altercation. A very large, tall man was harassing a much smaller man, saying the standard “Hey, whatchoo looking’ at?” dialogue. The big guy was about a foot taller and was least 100 pounds heavier than his would-be victim. The small guy kept his hands up in a placating but slyly defensive position while trying to extricate himself from the situation. The big guy seemed to be backing down, but suddenly pulled back his right arm as if to throw a haymaker. The small guy responded with an incredibly fast jab-cross-hook combination that knocked the big guy out cold. He then promptly left the premises.

A key lesson from this little story is the importance of hand speed. It’s a lesson I’ve seen time and time again in sparring. I have encountered quite a few strong, muscular guys with really slow hands. It’s actually rather amusing when they spar with seemingly out-of-shape partners who happen to have really good hand speed. Guess who tends to get more strikes in?

In a self-defense situation, hand speed could mean the difference between life or death, especially if a weapon is involved. Fortunately, there are ways to improve hand speed. These five have worked for me…

Friday, January 6, 2017

Books Read, 2016

A couple of years ago I decided to log every book I read and then compile a master list at the end of the year. Below is my Master Reading List for 2016, in alphabetical order by title. I'll try to post a list of my favorite books read last year soon.

FICTION
  • The Bards of Bone Plain by Patricia McKillip
  • Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes
  • The Caller by Juliet Marillier
  • Chalice by Robin McKinley
  • Cybele's Secret by Juliet Marillier
  • The Dancers of Arun by Elizabeth A. Lynn
  • Dreamer's Pool by Juliet Marillier
  • The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
  • The Great God Pan by Arthur Machen
  • Greyfax Grimwald by Niel Hancock
  • Harpist  in  the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
  • Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip
  • Indigo by Louise Cooper
  • Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins by Emma Donoghue

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Philosophy Thursday: So... Am I a Buddhist or Not?

Buddhism is a tricky thing. It can be a religion or a philosophy or both. It can be metaphysical or purely materialist. It can be laden with ceremony and tradition. Or not. 
 Because of this ambiguity, it can sometimes be difficult to decide if one should or should not refer to oneself as a Buddhist. This is doubly true if you happen to come from a non-Buddhist, Western cultural milieu. 
 I’ve been interested in Eastern thought and Buddhism in particular for many years. I first encountered Buddhist teachings when I was a teenager. My parents and I were staying at a hotel in Hilo, Hawaii. It was mid-afternoon, raining (as it often does in Hilo) and my parents were taking a nap. I had some time to kill but didn’t feel like braving the rain. On a whim, I looked in one of the drawers of the hotel room desk and found a Gideon’s Bible as well as The Teaching of Buddha. This is not uncommon in Hawaii. Some hotel rooms even have copies of the Book of Mormon. 
 Curious, I sat down and read the Buddhist book. I was impressed by the gentle, compassionate nature of the teachings therein. A seed was definitely planted in my being, but it was one that would take a long time to sprout. Soon after I discovered Buddhism I stumbled onto  Existentialism (thanks to a song by the Cure), and my philosophical excursions came to be dominated by Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Friedrich Nietzsche, with Gautama Buddha, Lao Tzu, and Confucius sneaking in here or there. Plus, in college, I took several courses about East Asian history, cultural, and thought, so Buddhism never was completely off my radar. 
 As I got older, I became involved in martial arts. I also found myself having to contend with the deaths of some people who I loved very much. It was around this point I started getting more serious about exploring Buddhism. I started reading the usual, classic authors—Alan Watts, D. T. Suzuki,  Christmas Humphreys, Thomas Cleary, etc.—before moving on to contemporary Buddhist writers such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Pema Chödrön, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and others. 
At this point in my life I essentially accept the Four Noble Truths and try to live with a spirit of loving compassion. I meditate, though probably not enough. I’m a vegan who refrains from harming other sentient beings whenever possible. But can I really call myself a Buddhist?

 According to an article written by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche for Lion’s Roar, the answer is “Sorta.”