"Immersion in the life of the world, a willingness to be inhabited by and to speak for others, including those beyond the realm of the human, these are the practices not just of the bodhisattva but of the writer." --Jane Hirshfield

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas Books

Reading the books I got for Christmas:Bluebeard's Egg, by Margaret Atwood, and The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which I'd been waiting for in paperback -- like legions of vampire lovers with tired shoulders.

Atwood has the reputation of being unfriendly & snobbish -- maybe that's why it's so much fun to read her descriptions of characters. She can really slice 'em and dice 'em.

The Historian moves at a pace that brings me back to all the reading I did as a child/teen, when I wasn't in a hurry all the time, and maybe the world wasn't either. This book has been criticized for needing better editing. The funny thing is, you know all the vampire characteristics, all the possibilities, but it's good anyway. There's a lot of beautiful descriptive travel writing, which redeems the inordinate number of locale changes.

It was Book Sense's Book of the Year in fiction.

Zen of Smoking

The unseasonably warm weather has an unexpected drawback: more people -- mostly elderly males, it seems -- smoking outdoors, which is a pain in the ass for those of us walking downwind of them. I counted one cigarette and two cigars in the space of a couple of blocks yesterday.

The Zen thing: I crossed the street. Twice.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Dana Paramita, a party

Last Saturday was Zen Mountain Monastery's annual holiday dinner. This about sums it up:

Charles Dickens wrote, "I have always thought of Christmas time, as ... the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys."

It's for the community. People dress up, bring their kids (to see Santa and get presents), and enjoy the food and music. A great party, and open to all, although it's usually the less privileged who attend. Daido Roshi, the abbot, remarked that people seemed impressed by the surroundings. That's no surprise. The dining hall is like a medieval banquet hall, with huge timbers and iron chandeliers hung with Christmas balls. The monastery is a landmark site, and has a lot of one of a kind ironwork done by hand. Not many of us ordinarily have dinner in a setting like that.

photo courtesy of Zen Mountain Monastery

Christmas package arrives in office with chocolate...

...truffles. From Harry & David's -- how long can I extend the eating of this amazing dark chocolate truffle? They're so good, but so poisonous. I read all the things about dark chocolate having antioxidants, but chocolate and sugar are still a deadly combo for me. I'm going to limit myself to one, but take as long to eat it as if I had the whole box.

Five minutes so far. It's the aroma that's really amazing. (Maybe I should let it melt on a light bulb.)

UPDATE: 25 minutes! A new record, and, an interesting side effect: the desire for the chocolate wore off. Must be some chemical reaction that makes us want it NOW.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Should we read or have sex?

I work; try to take care of myself; eat right, which entails shopping and cooking; walk the dog; have a social life; have a meditation practice; try to write every day, not to mention reading -- What time does this leave for sex?

Forget about reading, you say? Not with books like Veronica around. You don't have to forget about sex with this book, either, since it oozes from every line. But that's a good thing ;)

Zen of Editing

Form is nothingness: think of your written work as having been written by a cosmic thread, or a can of silly string (see uses of silly string, below), that just happened to land in the shapes of letters that added up to words, a story, a book. Then, editing is like taking the end of the string, lifting and giving it a shake. Presto: nothingness again. This is why editing is scary. After all the hard work, you could wind up with nothing again. Or, you could draw replacement words, paragraphs from nothingness, edit them back into nothingness and continue ad infinitum.

If this is you, you really have been thinking too much. Each form the story takes is both indelible and changeable. You just have to pick the one you want to label "finished."

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Uses of Silly String
In Iraq

Monday, December 4, 2006

What is so Zen about that?

It's the sheer doing of it. You sit there and write. You don't make grocery lists while you write, or daydream, or doodle because then your 1,667 words will take all day. You don't think about whether it is good or not, because that's another waste of time.

And because you just do it, you realize that you can. Your monkey brain, what Zen calls the ingrained, distracting thought patterns that we all have and usually identify as our personality, quiets down, and words emerge from the quiet place that is left.

Because nothingness is form. Out of quiet, words. And not just words, but words that reflect your personality, your subject matter. In spite of monkey mind sitting quietly, behaving.

Form is nothingness: Let's talk about editing tomorrow.

Saturday, December 2, 2006


I just finished my first Nanowrimo -- for those of you who haven't tried it, see http://www.nanowrimo.org. It was a blast, and a good learning experience.

What did I learn? That it is possible to write a novel in a month (okay, I finished the 50,000 words, but the novel isn't technically done yet). All you have to do is spend a couple of hours a day at it. You start with an idea, you sit down every day (or almost every day, I did probably 6 out of 7), and the words pour out. You don't have time to wonder if it's any good, which is probably what slows you down normally.

Encouraging, no?
But you're asking, how do you know it's worth all that time? I don't, but the point is, it's not all that much time = worth a shot, not like agonizing for 5 years on weekends and holidays and ruining vacations and aggravating significant others...hmm, you get the idea.

Zen of Looking

He is very good at looking.