Chapter Sixty Five III

Gung Fu

Sunday brunch looks like new old home week. Besides the moms, Lacy and James, there are Nikko, Janah and me, Chan, Ning, baby David, Black and Sonia. Fifteen, including the Epsteins. We’d gone over early with Chan to review a new project, Ning and the baby came later with the moms and James. By the time the meeting is over the rest of the place is filled with family, some having Mimosas or Bloody Mary’s, the Shaolin get cups of tea and we settle in around the chairs and sofas in the Epstein’s huge living room. Black is admiring my calligraphy in its centerpiece spot.
Black, “De Seelk got de knack. You’re still at it?”
“I practice all the time around the apartment, then once month I do something big if I get an inspiration. I must have forty pieces stacked in Kara’s vault. Sort of the ghetto alongside the rich neighborhood.”
“Not from what Kara tells me. She wants you to show some.”
“Cash for my trash? I might. My problem is the publicity of it, I don’t want to get noticed, not in that public of a way. I guess it’s possible nobody will care.”
Black, “I never thought you’d worry about attention.”
“Oh I still like attention, from Janah and Nikko, or hugs from a stud Shaolin monk I know. I don’t care about publicity, and we have other reasons for not wanting to be much noticed.”
“Makes sense. Can you sell it without being there? Anonymously?”
“That’s what Janah says. It’s not just my stuff, you understand?”
“Yeah, so if there’s a show with the artist, then how do you explain the artist? I mean you could just be the sort of front man artist, I get the problem.”
“Plus, it’s a direct result of my training. The Shaolin don’t care, I feel like it’s theirs as well.”
Black, “Have a show, don’t appear, donate the money.”
“I think that’s how it’s going to go down. Some will go to the temple, some to Chapmans, presuming somebody actually buys it.”
“That won’t be the problem.”
“Okay, okay little big brother, I hear you. Kara’s gallery has offered to do it for expenses if the money’s donated, so I really have no excuses.”
Black, “So I can make the announcement?”
What do you want to do?
Janah, Let Black have his fun.
“Go for it.”
Black taps the side of his tea cup with a spoon, the conversations quiet down and heads turn to the sound, “I have an announcement to make. I was admiring a certain artist’s calligraphy so elegantly displayed in our hosts’ living room. The equally elegant artist, and her inspiration, have agreed to an anonymous showing and sale of a few pieces for the benefit of the Shaolin Temple and Chapmans school. Here’s to our anonymous artist, Daphne Sylk, and her muse and inspiration, Master J!"
Black raises his teacup and the others follow suit, “To Daphne and Janah!”
That sets off a few thousand questions, directed at Kara, would it be at the gallery, when, is anything ready for sale, framed, how would people be notified, would it be as successful if the work was anonymous???
Kara, “Hold up guys. You’re asking the wrong person. I’m as delighted as anyone that the work will get its deserved recognition. As to the process, that’s why I have Sarah. We’ve talked about it only generally and it hasn’t come up in months. Sarah will know what to do, that’s what she does, sells art. She agreed long ago to offer Daphne’s work for the cost of her expenses, if the proceeds were to be donated. Daphne’s not going to sell the work for her own gain, she’s made that clear since we discovered the potential market value. It will take a few months no doubt. Sarah’s very meticulous about these things, and Daphne will have to decide what to put up for sale. So let’s enjoy the girls generosity, details will have to wait.”
The dust settles on questions, hugs for Janah and me, I decide that donating the work has some wonderful perks, “If you keep hugging us we might put them all up.”
Kara, “Just give them a taste honey, let the buyers appreciate what they’re getting.”
“I just hope it sells for more than Sarah’s expenses, maybe calligraphy is passé.”
Kara, “Then it’ll be the first time in two thousand years, perhaps you’ll bring an end to the market single handedly.”
“I guess that’s a good reason to sell it anonymously.”
Janah noticed Lacy head to the ladies and follows her with me in tow. Lacy is full of tears and doesn’t want to spoil the fun, overwhelmed by the generosity.
Lacy, “This family is the most incredible group of people on this or any other planet, I have no idea what to say.”
“Just don’t raise the rent on the apartment and we’ll call it even.”
Lacy, still teary eyed, gets the giggles with Janah. Having Janah close is something she couldn’t buy at any price, and she is enveloped as part of the family as if she’d been born into it. I return to the living room, Janah waits while Lacy touches up her makeup.
Mrs. Epstein announces it is time to graze, her caterers’ presentation spectacular, there is vegetarian and carnivore, leaning towards southwestern , lots of freshly made guacamole, black beans, cheese, salsas and pico de gallo. Crispy chips and warm corn tortillas. Huevos rancheros, tamales and chicken tacos. A stack of Dos Equis on ice and Asahi, the ultra-dry Japanese beer, that goes particularly well with spicy Mexican. Naturally there are fresh jalapenos, chipotle and habanera peppers for the fearless.

Chapter Sixty Six III

Barring people who threaten others, we don’t know how someone else should be.
They are how they are. If they bug you, move on.
Janah Svensson

Later that afternoon, Black, Sonia, Chan and Ning are at the apartment. Ning puts the baby in his crib, he’d been up most of the morning and early afternoon being the center of attention. I make coffee and tea, turn on background music, instrumental world beat on the satellite radio. While the coffee is brewing I put a pot of tea on the table in front of Janah, lean over for a kiss.
Black, “I see Master Sylk still looks after White Angel.”
Janah, “Plus Nikko’s here and when she’s not spoiling Daphne she takes good care of me too. Ning has taken over the apartments and shopping, I have it made.”
Black, “Who takes care of Nikko?”
Janah looks over to Nikko, who responds, “Two as one, Sis, K-mom, Ning, Chan and, of course, C-mom, who takes care of everyone.”
Black, “So everyone is caring for everyone, I could have figured out that by myself. Nothing’s changed, just more of you.”
Ning, “It’s very simple really, so many hands. My husband is diligent, always working, or practicing. Sonia has a perfect partner. She is very happy, she talks only of you.”
Black, “Sonia is a treasure, she works too hard. I’m always anxious for her to get home, totally un-Shaolin, in a good way I hope.”
Sonia, “I have no complaints. You know how my work is, so many people, the cases never end. Black is endlessly patient. He’s not naturally like Chan. For him it requires being attentive to his mood.”
Janah, “I don’t think you mind him being a little impatient to see you.”
Sonia smiles, “I love him being impatient to see me. All that time in the temple, no girlfriend, my big man has stored up a lot of, uh, energy.”
“That isn’t stored up energy, it’s the energy you create when I see you.”
Sonia, “Black says the sweetest things, don’t you think?”
I hug him from behind, “He’s not just saying it honey, he’s pretty quiet until he talks about you, then those dark eyes start to shine baby.”
I kiss Black on the cheek, “Don’t worry, I won’t tell her everything you said. She’ll get all full of herself and we’ll never bring her back to earth. This family only has room for one Diva and that position’s already filled.”
Ning, “You still need to learn how to boss people around and throw tantrums or you’ll never hit Diva big time. Plus all you do for us is tarnishing your snob image.”
“I get all the Diva I need from Nishiko. Except when we practice, then she treats me with no respect at all. She’s better than me with the sword, which is incredibly irritating, and Hanshi likes her better.”
Black, “If I can deflect the conversation from mutual admiration…”
Sonia, “You mean now that Daphne’s got your compliments in?”
Black, “Yeah, you know, humility and all. So, my question is for Master J. Actually baby, it’s about that girl you told me about, you know the one who doesn’t feel anything. I want to know what J thinks about it. You want to explain?”
“I don’t really know the girl too well, she’s part of a family I see. Daddy’s a druggie, Mommy is a prostitute. I give her points for pimping herself out, she at least doesn’t pay a deadbeat to not beat her up. One older sister is in school, hanging in, nothing special, making it. One younger brother who is headed for adult jail as soon as he crosses the age line. He’s lost, on the street, out of control. Thinks he’s the Irish mafia or something. The middle child is the one Black’s taking about, strange is all I can call her. Nothing touches her, she’s not happy, she’s not sad. She’s there, responsive, not dumb or drugged up. She has no ambition, to do bad stuff or good. It’s like every day is just what it is. I think she could see her family murdered in front of her and she’d just sit and watch.”
Janah, “She doesn’t feel.”
Sonia, “No, I mean yes, that’s right, she’s like that old Star Trek chracter, Spock.”
“Does she enjoy food or sex?”
“She eats, doesn’t care what it is. I don’t think sex is on the menu.”
“She has no friends or social relationships?”
“No, she told me she doesn’t dislike anyone, doesn’t like anyone, feels no need to have friends. I asked her why she didn’t want to have friends.”
 “And she asked you why she would want any?”
“Her exact words were, what for?”
Janah, “She’s anhedonic.”
“An what?”
“Anhedonic. It’s a symptom of some schizophrenics. She’s doesn’t have to be schizophrenic to have it, and not all schizophrenics are anhedonic. What it amounts to is that she has no feeling of pleasure. Some are physical anhedonics, they don’t enjoy one food over another, or one thing doesn’t smell better than another, others are social anhedonic, they derive no pleasure from friends or relations. Sounds like your girl is both. Dad would know more, I just read about it someplace.”
“What do I do with her?”
“Sometimes Prozac works, often they have to take it for a fairly long time before much happens, they may be normal for a time then relapse, even when they continue the drug. There seems to be evidence that continued treatment with therapy will help. If help is the right word.”
“What do you mean?”
“Is she complaining, appear to be unhappy or dysfunctional?’
“Not really. I mean she doesn’t care one way or the other, it’s hard to tell.”
Janah, “Sometimes I wonder if it’s our job to force people into a mold. Does it help them or does it merely help us, so we don’t have to deal with someone different?”
Black, “You don’t think having no emotion is a problem?”
Ning, “It’s kind of what the Shaolin teach isn’t it?”
“We are taught to see our emotions for what they are, to appreciate them, not get caught up in them. They don’t suggest avoiding or suppressing them. Only to recognize that they may lead us into illusion.”
Janah, “And the anhedonic have no illusions. The see a thing purely for what it is, they attach no emotional meaning to it.”
“I see your point. Still, it’s hardly the middle way….”
“Yes, I know, they have no appreciation for beauty or ugliness, or for right or wrong. Anhedonics feel no pleasure, they feel physical pain, there’s no positive emotional sensitivity. The books call it a form of depression, I’m not sure. Is the inability to feel pleasure depression? They aren’t necessarily unable to function, but they only get sad, or nothing, no upside. Why are people labeled depressed just because they don’t wear the happy face?”
Sonia, “Is it a dopamine thing?”
“I can see that. Not enough dopamine, like an addict withdrawing. He has no sense of pleasure, nothing to raise his spirits, the drug has raised the bar and without it nothing seems pleasurable. I mean, we’re all brain chemicals and neural connections. If the environment helps us create favorable neural connections, and our chemistry produces a properly balanced amount of neurotransmitters, we’re functional and appropriate. Otherwise, we’re out of whack, too violent, too unresponsive, too much sexual desire, not enough, too angry, too sad.”
Black, “What about psychological pain?”
Janah, “Do anhedonics experience emotional pain if they don’t experience emotional pleasure?”
“Yes, is it a tradeoff?”
“From what I’ve read, it’s all over the lot. Mostly no, it’s not a tradeoff and yes, in most cases they do feel the bad and can’t experience the good. I don’t know how badly they feel relative to someone who experiences both. Does it seem less awful because you don’t know what joy is, no basis of comparison? My guess is it’s still awful. The suicide rate is pretty high among this group, so they aren’t really emotionally neutral. It's a whole different question if they are sad but don't know it, is it possible to feel sad if you don't call it anything?”
Ning, “Can we make ourselves emotionally neutral?”
“That’s another difficult question. Do the Shaolin, or Zen practitioners attempt emotional neutrality?”
“Chan and Nikko don’t display emotion,” she looks at Nikko, “is that too personal?”
Ning is still adjusting to a family where nothing is too personal. That doesn’t mean members discuss everything one family member told them with the others. It means one family member could tell another anything, confident no judgments would be forthcoming, no offense taken.
Nikko, “No, at least not for me, I don’t think Chan is worried about it either. We’re not emotionally neutral, we don’t express our emotion publicly, it’s not the same thing.”
Ning, “So each brings their way to the world, not only as a result of some teaching, Buddhist or otherwise.”
Janah, “Yes, across the masters at the temple, there’s every personality type, the silent ones, the Qi Masters, completely open and animated, everything in between. As a Buddhist, you already know it’s not about setting personality rules, only to end suffering. Trying to make a quiet person animated is adding to her suffering, it’s not her nature. Apart from the obvious, people who cause suffering, use or torment others, who are we to decide a person should be different from what they are?  How do we know what they should be? People who can’t get their own stuff together always know how everyone else should be.”
Black, "Discounting the violent ones."
Janah, "Yes. Personal stupidity is fine. Pressing your stupidity and anger on others is not."

End of Book III

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