Friday, September 23, 2011

Dharma Road Appears in Best Buddhist Writing!

The 2011 edition of Best Buddhist writing is out now and it features an excerpt from Dharma Road. I've enjoyed reading this collection over the years and I am truly honored to have my writing included. Thanks to Melvin McLeod and the editors of Shambhala Sun.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Dharma Road Reviewed!

Dharma Road received a very generous review in the July issue of Shambhala Sun. Thanks to Andrea Miller for her kind words. Click here to see the review and learn about some other fine books. Or, even better, click here to subscribe to Shambhala Sun. It's always enlightening.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Escape to Shambhala Sun

My very short story, "Escape" appeared along with my article about noir fiction from a Buddhist perspective in the May issue of "Shambhala Sun". Visit their website to either read the story or order the print issue. While you're there, check out a subscription! It's always a great read.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


Dharma Road, my book about modern Zen practice (and cabdriving) is available now. It's a beginners' guide to Zen philosophy and practice as they play out in the everyday life of an Austin cabdriver. It's Zen with an attitude and a sense of humor. Because in this world, you're going to need both.

Dharma Road is available wherever fine books are sold. To order your copy from Amazon, click here.

I want to thank everyone at Hampton Roads Publishing, especially my editor, Jordan Overby, Susie Pitzen, Greg Brandenburgh, Lisa Trudeau, and Bonni Hamilton for all their help with this project.

And a big thank you to Kristin Ramsey for all her help on this project.

Remember, with the holidays coming, nothing says "Merry Christmas" like a book about Buddhism. Buy dozens!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fun With Flugtag

In the past few years a comic airshow called Flugtag has been traveling around the world. It's produced by the makers of Red Bull, which is a tasty soft drink containing methamphetamines. Their slogan is "Red Bull gives you wings." If the Flugtag is any indication, it also makes you crash and break up into pieces.
Here's how a Flugtag works. Teams spend months designing and building flying machines using commonly available materials, most of which come from the city dump. The team pushes the plane (carrying one team member, known as the victim) down a long ramp about thirty feet above the surface of a lake, river, or other body of water. When the plane reaches the end of the ramp it falls straight down into the water, usually falling apart even before it hits the water. Then the whole team jumps off the ramp into the water. Canoes rush in to rescue the team and clean up the debris. Ten minutes later another team does exactly the same thing. This goes on for hours.
A Flugtag show was held a while ago in Austin, where I live. 85,000 people lined the shores of Lady Bird Lake to watch the spectacle. Getting 85,000 Texans to walk away from their air conditioners in August is an accomplishment in itself. For comparison, that's about half the number of troops the United States government has stationed in Iraq to fight a war. It would have been a spectacle even without the planes crashing into the lake.
The all-time record for a Flugtag flight is listed on the website as 190 feet. From what I saw, the longest flight in Austin was about three feet. I was disappointed. I didn't expect any of these contraptions to take wing and soar off into the sunset with a jaunty tip of its wings, but I thought some of the teams would at least make an attempt. They didn't. They just wheeled the things down to the end of the ramp and dropped them in the lake. Then they all jumped off the ramp into the water in sympathy.
Apparently none of the teams was aware that swimming is banned in Lady Bird Lake for health reasons. Without going into too much detail, the fecal matter counts are way higher than they would be in a nice spring-fed swimming pool. Personally, I wouldn't jump into that water if there was free beer floating in it. I half expected the planes to decompose before they were salvaged. But it would have been hard to tell.
Part of the fun of watching a Flugtag is seeing the quirky designs people come up with for the craft. Among the entries in Austin were Billy Ocean's Flying Fish Taco, the Chupacabra Iditarod Sled and the Germans Bombing Pearl Harbor. Another plane depicted a giant, possibly rabid, bat. Of course, this is Austin, and you see things like that all the time around here. The city's slogan is "Keep Austin Weird." Even before Flugtag, we were doing a pretty good job of it.
If Flugtag comes to your city (and if you have a body of water, it probably will), here's a tip. Get there early. You'll want a good seat to watch the planes crash into the water. And it really adds to the experience if you can hear the sounds of the planes disintegrating as they hit the lake. Even better are the screams of the victims as they realize that they're not going to be swooping gracefully over the lake after all. And you have to be close to hear all that over the oohing and aahing of the crowd.
If you really want to have some fun, disregard all of the above and get to work on your own flying deathtrap. Who knows? Maybe yours will be the one that defies the laws of physics and actually flies.

Du Yu Sudoku?

by Brian Haycock

A few years ago the local paper started running a Sudoku puzzle four times a week next to the comic strips. I studied the first puzzle carefully. It seemed pretty harmless. It was just a grid with some numbers. How bad could that be? I should have known better.
Everyone knows about Sudoku by now. It's a craze. It's taking the country by storm. There's one in TV Guide, an easy one with letters for people who hate math so much they can't even stand to look at numbers. The ones in the paper are harder than the TV Guide version. There's a two-star version in the Tuesday edition. It takes ten or fifteen minutes and when I finish I feel a little smarter than I did when I started. The four-star Thursday puzzle is harder. When I finish it I feel like I've accomplished something pretty impressive. Okay, I've killed a half hour on something about as pointless as solitaire bingo, but still, I'm impressed.
Then it's the weekend and the five-star puzzles hit, one on Saturday, another on Sunday. Sometimes I can finish them, sometimes not. But I don't give up easily. I keep the unfinished puzzles around, usually on the living room floor, until I either finish them or explode into an uncontrollable rage and tear them to shreds.
I should have seen this coming. I'm a little obsessive. When I started running I just wanted to put in a mile or so now and then to keep the weight down and the cardio turning over. In months I was putting in twelve-mile training runs and sucking down Gatorade by the gallon. Now I have a six-year record of my running times on my computer, and I'm still adding to it. I also have Achilles tendinitis, two bad knees and a chronic case of chafing from my running shorts. Like I said, I can be a little obsessive.
So I should have known better than to let myself get sucked into the Sudoku craze.
A month after I started, I figured out that I was spending six hours a week working on Sudoku puzzles. I told myself I'd get better with practice, and I'd spend less time on them, but even I could recognize that as total nonsense. I know a lame excuse when I use one.
But, I told myself, there were only four puzzles a week. That wasn't so bad. I could handle that.
Then I discovered Speed Sudoku.
I was sitting at the computer one day. I was supposedly working on my novel but I wasn't making much progress. I Googled "Sudoku" and wound up on a site advertising billions of Sudoku puzzles. I should have gotten out when I saw the word "billions." There were skill levels ranging from "Easy" to "Evil." I punched "Evil" and battled my way through a really tough puzzle in 22:35. I tried another and did it in 25:17. The screen cheerfully told me that my average time was 23:56. And that I was slower than 83% of the Sudoku addicts playing on the site. I thought I could bring my average down if I just did one more puzzle.
Just one more. That's what they all say. I was hooked.
One of the great things about Web Sudoku is that it keeps track of how many games of Sudoku the user—and that's what I am now, a user—has played. I've played 347 games of Sudoku on the site in the past two months. Given my average of 21:43 per puzzle (See, I knew I could bring it down!), I've put in 125 hours, 59 minutes and 28 seconds on Sudoku puzzles. Now I'm even obsessed with the amount of time I'm spending on Sudoku.
I haven't finished my novel. I'm working on it, sort of. Between games.
There's a new puzzle in town. It's called KenKen. That's Japanese for DumDum. It's an even more devious puzzle
Now I'm going to Google "Sudoku" and "Rehab" to find out what treatment options are available for a helpless Sudoku addict. I just know I'm going to end up in a circle of Sudoku freaks, listening to them talk about how the puzzles ruined their lives. And throwing in my own stories.
Maybe they can help me.

Washoe, RIP

by Brian Haycock

Humans and chimpanzees all over the world are in mourning. The great Washoe, the legendary chimpanzee genius, has gone on to the big banana farm in the sky at the age of 42.
Although Washoe was probably the most intelligent chimpanzee to be captured by humans, she was never able to match the popularity of J. Fred Muggs, who was once host of the Today Show. Nor did she amass the wealth of Cosmo, the chimpanzee artist who once sold three paintings for $26,000 in an auction. Still, Washoe had much to be proud of.
Her greatest accomplishment was mastering 250 words of American Sign Language and helping teach them to a small group of younger chimpanzees. To put this accomplishment in perspective, the average human knows precisely zero words of American Sign Language. And a lot of them can't really make coherent sentences in their own languages.
Washoe's human companions are grieving in the way humans do. They're thinking up poignant tributes in English, a language Washoe never mastered. A scientist with the institute that studied Washoe called her "an emissary bringing us a message of respect for nature." Another human mourner wrote on the Friends of Washoe website, "Washoe taught me to love, to trust and to nurture..." A third posted a little story about Washoe arriving at the gates of heaven. It quoted St. Peter saying, "In heaven we all speak chimpanzee."
The chimps are pretty upset, too. Washoe's companions are said to be morose and really cranky. When asked his feelings about the great one's passing, one member of Washoe's adopted family signed, "Red, red, banana, chair, red, banana." Experts are debating the meaning of this.
It could be that language skills among the remaining chimps at the institute are already deteriorating.
With Washoe unable to speak for herself, controversy over her actual abilities is likely to continue. Human scientists disagree over whether Washoe actually used ASL to communicate or merely made signs more or less at random in hopes that someone would feed her. While she was alive, Washoe had a sign for people who refused to believe she was actually using language. Critics, however, claimed that she learned the sign when she rode in Seattle traffic with her handlers and only used it in hopes that someone would feed her.
Among her critics was Noam Chomsky, who claims that chimpanzees lack the physical brain structures to develop language skills. He also criticized Washoe as a traitor to her species who helped her human oppressors learn to control her fellow chimpanzees as part of a bid to seize the mineral wealth of central Africa.
His critics claim that Chomsky only says things like that in hopes that someone will feed him.
In a press release, the animal rights group PETA announced that it would issue a statement about Washoe eventually. They are currently too busy trying to get supermodels to pose naked to protest the fur industry.
The cause of Washoe's death is listed as the flu. She is now set to undergo a necropsy, which means that she will be dissected into very small pieces. A memorial is planned, but it will be held without Washoe's remains, which will be in a biowaste landfill by then. It's hard being an emissary for nature.
In lieu of flowers, well-wishers are invited to send bunches of bananas to the Friends of Washoe, a non-profit set up to help her and the other chimps at the Institute.
Rest in peace, Washoe.