Unread books

I need to be reading more. I still have Conducting the Reference Interview (2nd ed.) by Catherine Ross, Kirsti Nilsen, and Marie Radford; and Defusing Hostile Customers Workbook (3rd ed.) by Robert Bacal, to look at. I’m thinking that my unconscious prioritization of this may be stopping me from reading other things.

This book of Bacal’s, in particular, can be a bit triggering for me — I may have mentioned it someplace or another, online. As regards discouragements, the first book I mentioned has recently come out with a 3rd edition. Which…I just ordered. I hate that I just ordered it, but it happened, and now I have to live with it.

The 2nd ed. was published in 2009, and it is tech-intensive enough so that it makes sense to upgrade to the new one. I don’t want to have to deal with repeated material or outdated material.

I may have an upcoming job interview; also possibly a placement test, if I’m selected. I’m still waiting on those calls. If either of those two things happens…I’ll want to know some of the information in Conducting the Reference Interview. I took the latter to work recently (the 2nd ed.) but didn’t want to take a break out of my time focusing on library work, in order to focus more on librarianship.

Recently, I finally got the book, Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism by John Powers. I loved his Concise Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, some years ago; it was likely the first book I checked out from a public library that I read all the way through after I got my BA. It’s certainly the one which stood out most, to me.

The main difference between the two books is that the latter is condensed, while the former is full-length. The full-length one is the one I bought…and it’s extremely thick. I mean, extremely, close to 1.5″ if you look online. I haven’t gotten to break into it, yet, and really, it’s a little intimidating (although the length may be a bonus if one is really interested in the material).

The major drawback that I can see is the fact that all the specialized terms are translated into English, which …may be understandable, given that we’re talking about Tibetan Buddhism, and written English transliteration of Tibetan is notoriously difficult to understand (or pronounce) without prior knowledge of the language. There is a glossary in the back of the book, but it still would have been nice to not have to translate everything out of standard English and into a transliteration of Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit (with which I’m more familiar…but I’ve been studying this stuff for about 15 years, and this is an “introduction” to the systems).

Speaking of Buddhism…I want and/or need to read up on Robert Spence Hardy, to see what to watch out for in English-language interpretations of “Buddhism”. Hardy is unreliable and only a partial source, but at the same time highly influential, being one of the first people to relate Buddhism as a system to English-speaking audiences. Hardy himself was a Methodist missionary, so there is an obvious conflict of interest in his representing Buddhism to English-speaking people. His works can be found online. I’m interested in reading him so I can then recognize people parroting him in multiple different English-language renditions of Buddhism.

I wouldn’t have known anything about him at all without reading the first essay (by Judith Snodgrass) in TransBuddhism: Transmission, Translation, and Transformation, edited by Nalini Bhushan, Jay Garfield, and Abraham Zablocki. (See JSTOR.) I should really read more of the essays in that book, though I lost interest back when I stopped having faith in the system, and as a consequence, started to believe studying it was a waste of time.

I am at the point of realizing now, though, that I can have interest in Buddhist ideas and not necessarily have to, “believe in,” anything anyone associated with the religion says (even though we do have a culture which emphasizes, “faith,” as a good thing, in the United States). One of my coworkers advised me that it would be OK to seek out a Buddhist priest to talk about my misgivings with the religion (or rather, the English-language presentation of the religion).

Beyond that, I do still have those two books on creativity and mental illness, that I’m in the middle of: Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, by Kay Redfield Jamison; and The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, by Alice Flaherty.

I stopped reading those two largely because I realized that it might be better for me to exercise my creativity at that moment, than to read about creativity. The latter seems to be a convenient distraction. I know I can read these books when I really am not feeling creative. While it is possible to believe I can’t make anything and then self-fulfill that, I know that taking it one step at a time does get things done. There are still times that it’s easier to space out or otherwise be relatively passive, though (although I tend to consistently challenge what I’m reading, as I’m reading it — so reading, for me, isn’t really wholly passive).

Beyond that, I also recently picked up the 5th edition of Learning PHP, MySQL, and JavaScript by Robin Nixon, 2018, O’Reilly Media. This book is also super-thick (about 1.5″), on par with my CSS text for my Web Design class, CSS: The Missing Manual, 4th ed., by David McFarland, 2015, O’Reilly Media. That book was extremely useful at the time, however.

It is important for me to learn this stuff, though I haven’t been back to my JavaScript course for several weeks. At the rate things are going…well, actually, maybe I will have time to deal with it coming up, because everything I had to deal with as regards graduation (which was a lot), is over.

Anyhow, I got the above book in print rather than electronic format because, not having seen it, I was concerned that the electronic version may have been inferior. This was an especial concern where the book uses at least four different typefaces to mean different things in context. As my eReader can change its own fonts…I was concerned enough to order the paper version. As it turns out, the print is pretty straightforward, and looks fairly similar to my electronic sample.

The biggest difference between print and electronic seems to be the sheer weight of the thing (the print version is 3 lbs.), plus the lack of clickable hotlinks and electronic searchability. However…I also don’t have so much faith that my eReader will continue to work more than a few years into the future. When it fails, I’ll need the paper backups (or to buy a new eReader to access my library, which I’m not entirely confident will be a good option).

Right now I’m just working on filling skill gaps (I have two more courses to go before I’ll be done with my Cataloging series), applying for jobs, learning to drive, and keeping up with work. And, right; trying to find the time to read, and work on the creative stuff (which is still important, especially if I’m going to work in a Public Library setting). I’m finding myself becoming surprisingly unused to reading paper books, though.

Karma: I am not a Buddhist

Recently, I finished reading Karma: What It Is, What It Isn’t, Why It Matters, by Traleg Kyabgon. Because reading for grad school has apparently endowed me with reading superpowers, I was able to complete the book in two nights. This encourages me to question whether I would be better off using library services.

Another book, What Makes You Not A Buddhist, by Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse, I tried to read several years ago, but I lost interest — largely because of the stance of its author, which reads to me as at least intending to challenge and change the reader, if not outright manipulating them. That is, I am wary of the (apparently) unspoken message, “if you want to be a real Buddhist, then you’ll do what I say,” which doesn’t strike me as an argument in my best interest.

(It’s been a while since I looked at this book; I must say that at the time I looked into it, it read as so hostile that I didn’t want to continue. Then again, Karma also read to me initially, like the author had an attitude; which I was able to set aside for a couple of nights in order to process anything beneficial to me that he had to communicate.)

There’s a limit to how far one can take identity politics; I, for one, would much rather maintain my intellectual integrity and take interest in Buddhism without feeling pressure to buy into it. At a certain point, I also believe that having and maintaining an identity as “Buddhist” goes against the ideal of letting go of clinging to compounded things. But that only really matters if you buy into the idea that clinging to compounded things instigates suffering, and that suffering is best avoided (on a grand scale).

There’s that, and the fact that I really don’t think I’m Buddhist in the first place (I take more interest in culture and folklore which arose in the same milieus influenced by Buddhism, having an East Asian ethnic background and having been included in U.S. mainland Asian-American culture, which is relatively inclusive [I hear and read that it isn’t the same way in other locales like Hawaii, where ethnic groups don’t have a shared identity as much]), so the book obviously isn’t targeted at me.

This is another time that my study of Marketing gives me some relief: I’m not in Khyentse’s target market, so it doesn’t really matter what I feel about it.

My reading of Karma stems off of having restarted The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain, by Alice Flaherty, and Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, by Kay Redfield Jamison. (Sometimes it’s easier to read about creativity, than it is to be creative.) Flaherty’s book was relatively new when I got it, having a copyright date of 2004. It’s basically been sitting around here collecting dust — probably due to the fact that it opens with an explanation of the functions of different brain regions, which isn’t the most engaging material.

Underlying all of this is the uncertainty I have at this point in my life, of how central to my identity my creativity is, or should be, or can be. There’s also the obvious (to me) fact that I’ve been watching Dragon Ball Super (don’t laugh), and there is an obvious trope of transformation in that anime.

For those who don’t know anything about Dragon Ball, it’s basically a fantasy martial-arts animated series. The main character (Son Goku, a.k.a Kakkarotto) has a consistent habit of getting nearly beaten to death and then coming back stronger, faster, etc., and discovering new heights of power which were inaccessible before he was pushed to the point where he had to break through his own limitations (or, at least the limitations he and everyone else thought he had).

On the surface, the Dragon Ball saga looks like an encouragement to youth to try hard at whatever they’re doing and not to believe that they can’t ascend to whatever height they aspire to (and beyond, to levels they can’t fathom upon beginning). I mention this because the difference in message between Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z, we analyzed in an undergrad class I took on Japanese Pop Culture; Dragon Ball Super follows from Dragon Ball Z (and I guess we’re just going to forget Dragon Ball GT ever happened).

On a different level, I’m thinking that the idea of transformation is deeper than just a pop-culture reference. I have not, however, read deeply into literary references in Dragon Ball, mostly because that’s a question I would have to find an answer to on the Web, and because I’ve grown enough to know that information on pop-culture isn’t always the safest thing to access with a computer that I want to function later.

In Karma, I’ve read Kyabgon to essentially state that breaking free of karma is to do what is not expected; to have freedom of motion that essentially breaks the script. Remaining in samsara is to remain in our ingrained habits (which inevitably coincide with pain or unsatisfactoriness [duhkha], this being kind of the definition of samsara), while the possibility of liberation lies in the ability to assume any form at any time, depending on need. This is possible because we are seen not to be inherently self-arising (there is no inherent identity), thus we depend on causes and conditions, thus when those causes and conditions change, we change.

By “form,” I’m particularly looking at the idea of the Six Lower Realms, though “form” can also be used in different contexts (for example, the “form body” and “formless body”, which I don’t really know about at this point, and which is likely not relevant to me at this point). The Six Lower realms are the Hell realm (anger), the Preta realm (greed), the Animal realm (ignorance), the Human realm (desire), the Asura realm (jealousy), the God realm (pride). Thank you, Joseph Campbell.

Each Lower Realm has a Poison, or klesha (if I’m correct in assigning that term), associated with it, which follow parenthetically from the name of each realm I’ve placed above. These Poisons are primarily responsible for suffering in each realm. Metaphorically, each person can be in predominantly one realm or another, and this can change at different times and in different situations.

There are also Higher Realms, beyond that of a God (getting into the worlds of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, Arhats, etc.), but they’re mostly inconsequential to a regular person. I have seen some of this belief in action in Pure Land Buddhism…but I’m not really into Pure Land Buddhism, at this point.

Sometimes faith is comforting, though, even if dangerous: those who subscribe to this form of Buddhism (the most common in the U.S.), are said to believe that through faith and mantra, they can be reborn into a Heaven ruled by an awakened being, in which it is easy to become liberated in one lifetime, oneself. (Apologies if I’ve got that wrong.) Over most of Buddhism, it’s accepted that it takes many lifetimes to achieve liberation, the exceptions that I know of being Vajrayana Buddhism (Lightning/Diamond Vehicle), which is a family of Buddhisms more than a school; and Zen (which aims for satori, or an instantaneous experience of nirvana).

In any case, I in particular am dealing with some issues of transformation. I now have my clearing to be employed as an information professional. While I was essentially an artist and writer in my youth, I find that the treatment I need for a serious and ongoing condition, in effect, dampens the amount of creativity that I observe within myself. (Of course, I’m biased: my memories of illness are in fact tainted by that illness.)

It’s fairly apparent that my mental space shifted markedly towards logic and rationality, when I began one medication in particular. I’ve now been on that medication for about 15 years. As I said before, I’m not sure if what I’m dealing with is simply not being forced to be creative, and being out of practice at being creative, or whether something within me has actually changed.

If something within me has changed, that means that I need to find something new around which to base my identity. That’s not easy, especially when in my youth, my reason to continue to survive was to create. Who am I without my creativity? Or, maybe that’s the wrong question to ask; maybe I still have my creativity, and it’s just harder to recognize, because it’s more subtle, and less forced.

Given that, even: I’m also moving more fully into my adult years, which is…kind of mind-blowing in itself.

Maybe the point right now is that I have a choice between being primarily an artist-writer, and being primarily something else that is not the same. It is, actually, like the person I was 15 years ago and the person I am now, are two different people with a continuity of memory — which is exactly the type of “rebirth” Buddhism suggests.

Of course, I also have the possibility, ill-advised though it is, to revert to my previous form by stopping medication. This would expose me to the full brunt of my illness, which — from what I’ve been told on all fronts — would only be likely to worsen in intensity over the rest of my lifetime. Given that in my twenties, I didn’t expect to make it to thirty…that’s not attractive.

The active states can be painful; or be a waste of time because of lack of clarity; or distort my judgment. A balance has to be drawn between wellness, and any benefit (like a subjective notion of my own creative productivity) my illness may happen to confer upon me.

For that matter, treatment itself confers great advantages to me that I didn’t have, outside of childhood. There are two negatives to it: one is the fact that unless I do something to counter it, I will gain weight. That’s a concern because of heart disease and diabetes. The other negative is that it changes the way I function, and I wasn’t told about or prepared for this when I began treatment.

Also, before treatment, I didn’t realize fully that I was painting and writing and drawing because I wasn’t connecting with the real world, but instead self-generating a world. That is, I had a florid inner experience which I could only share with others through writing and art.

15 years after the publication of The Midnight Disease, it seems the Internet is finally starting to catch up with Flaherty’s insights. Particularly, she mentions Geschwind Syndrome, a personality type associated with at least three families of illness which have changes in the temporal lobe as a common factor. Notably, I fit the profile for the syndrome — or at least, did. I don’t really know why; the general consensus seems to be that the traits are genetic in origin. When someone explains how genes (and probably also epigenetics, but that’s me) determine personality, then I could listen, but right now it’s just an unexplained observation.

In any case, reading about Geschwind Syndrome made me feel that it was okay for me to embrace my own Geschwind Syndrome, which is partially why I broke back into the Buddhism reading. Not to mention that I am in the midst of transformation (or at least the potential for transformation), on many levels.

The thought has occurred to me that maybe I need to embrace the person I’ve become, instead of mourning and grasping at the person I was. I’ve also realized that the person I used to be, could not take care of themselves. At this point, I’m much closer to independence, and being able to more powerfully interact with and help my communit(ies). So the potential for change that I can effect is greater, now, than it used to be. I can be a positive force rather than someone who has to be taken care of, and I’ll be a better force because I know what it’s like to have experienced this.

That’s worth it, right? That’s worth the medication, and it’s worth staying alive for. I’ve even heard from others that the loss of mandatory creativity is okay, if it means I function better.

I have just not seen writing on this topic, though I might not be looking hard enough, or maybe I don’t know where to look.

Last night I was able to engage in the design process again. I did surprise myself, because I was able to do it. Maybe my working methods are different, now; though I can still see remnants of what I used to experience while drawing (“seeing” what I need to draw, before my mark hits the page, though it isn’t a hallucination). I found that out while trying to design a new linocut that turned into a regular drawing… 😉

Yeah, maybe that’s not so bad… 🙂 I might just need to make being creative a priority in my life. I’ve found that a big drive toward creativity is not being able to stand my world unless I cause some change within it; some piece of jewelry, or a bit of writing, or a painting. I’m not entirely sure what causes this, either…but it calms me to look at what I’ve done, and it excites me to do more.