Posts Tagged ‘Writing Life’

Zen in ten

November 29th, 2007    -    17 Comments

Because one thing leads to another, here is my contribution to total life fulfillment in 10 seconds or less:

1. Make your bed. The state of your bed is the state of your head. Making your bed enfolds your day in respect and gratitude.

2. Use butter. Be generous with yourself and others; there is no need to skimp or settle; there is always enough; and it tastes much better that way.

3. Say hello. This is a genuine act of true love: to give and accept friendship for no good reason.

4. Floss your teeth. It really will keep your teeth and gums in better shape; you will feel good about it; and, most importantly, you will no longer have to lie to the dentist.

5. Slow down on the yellow light. Save yourself the effort of making an excuse.

6. Be quiet. Nearly all of conversation is complaining, blaming or criticizing, which is so much fun until someone gets hurt. Silence never judges. It is infinitely kind.

7. Rake the leaves. Not because you’ll finish and not because there is a prize, but because somebody has to.

8. Answer. There is nothing in life that doesn’t belong here. Listen when spoken to; answer when asked. Pay attention and look people in the eyes.

9. Exhale. This is what it really means to let go. Every other form of letting go is just imaginary. If you call yourself a “control freak” – and who isn’t – remind yourself that you already know perfectly well how to let go. Then exhale. You’ll feel pounds lighter right away.

10. Be. Forget all about this list; you already know how to live and you’re doing it beautifully; there are no rules required, and no authority elsewhere.

 

What she said

November 28th, 2007    -    6 Comments


In the beginner’s mind are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few. – Suzuki Roshi

It’s a good thing I’m having this conversation today when I otherwise feel so, well . . . fruitless.

She speaks my mind for me. And she speaks my heart.

How can I connect the two?

Back to the beginning, always back to the beginning.

Instead: Or what I did all day

November 14th, 2007    -    5 Comments


I wanted to sleep past dawn, but instead
I know making breakfast isn’t worth the effort, but instead
I hounded my daughter to make her bed, but instead
I’ve given up hounding my husband, so instead
I tried for a quick drop-off at school, but instead
I hoped the garden weeds wouldn’t spread, but instead
I prayed the dog poop in the yard would disappear, but instead
I wished a pet like ours didn’t need walking, but instead
I aimed to go exercise, but instead
I could have let the laundry mount, but instead
I contemplated a sumptuous lunch, but instead
I wanted to cancel the teleconference, but instead
I would gladly let someone else chauffeur the kids, but instead
I thought we could go one more day without groceries, but instead
I could have picked up dinner, but instead
I might have nixed my daughter’s bath and hair wash, but instead
I wish I’d written something more than this, but instead
I long for another response to Marta’s question, but instead
This is my life and there is no instead.
How could it be any other way?

Attention readers, bloggers and opinionators: if you would like a review copy of the new paperback edition of Momma Zen, my publisher will provide! Just contact me via the email on my profile page.

Separated at birth

November 13th, 2007    -    7 Comments

This week Momma Zen debuts in paperback. I feel a bit like a mother who sees her child after a short absence. There’s that half-step back on first sight: recognition commingled with no recognition. So much has changed! That fuller face. Those longer legs. That confident step. Where did the baby go?

As a dutiful mother, I’m holding this baby up to the world again. Perhaps you know this blog but you don’t yet know the book. I invite you to peek inside and nose around. Knock on my door so we can meet face to face. Pull up a chair and listen. Get to know the neighbors. We’re all in this together.

Nothing would make me happier. It could do the trick for you, too.

Visit my website to download audio excerpts in my own voice and a video interview in my own backyard.

We haven’t met but I’d know you anywhere.

Unscrabbling the answers

November 5th, 2007    -    11 Comments

Our week of truth-telling begins by revealing the winner of last week’s giveaway of the first copy of the new paperback edition of Momma Zen. Drumroll, please.

What began as a Friday morning afterthought ended up as an onslaught of 66 entrants, nearly all ensnared in a 24-hour period. Wait a minute. Astute readers might have noticed that sometime between the time I posted the giveaway and the time the winner was chosen, I changed the terms of the contest. What I first presented as a weeklong, below-the-radar offer turned into a high-speed photo finish on the final day of the Internet’s largest giveaway promotion. How did that happen? Easy. I changed my mind, and when I changed my mind, I changed the truth.

Those of you who entered early saw one deadline in the post; those in the thundering pack unleashed from giveaway central saw another. Whether you are an early and loyal reader on this Road or just a drive-by viewer tossing rocks in my dryer, consider this: Was my offer deceiving to some and not to others? Was it fair and honest? Every time my post was viewed, it was accurate, but perhaps not to your point of view.

It is difficult to extract one’s personal point of view from truth, but we must if we want to answer our own uncertainties about what is true and right for our children. But more about that tomorrow.

I do not know what silent force of attraction compelled my daughter to scroll through a list of 66 names and choose one, but she did. Her choice was proof again that children usually arrive at the most apparent answer, because after scanning all 66 she chose the very first name! I trust her choice to be as true and right as any other, and it carries my cheery salute to our first winner.


Kathryn has been busy lately losing her mind and heart to a two-month-old, but things are looking better every day. Stop by and give her a grin.

Astute readers might notice that I said first winner. This whole escapade addles and rattles one’s flimsy sense of truthiness, doesn’t it? Feeling uncomfortably as though my own personal agenda might not have been met by my daughter’s predilection for the obvious, I changed my mind again and turned to the scientific sanctity of an automated integer generator to name our second winner:


By her own words, this lucky mom of nine-month-old twins really NEEDS THIS BOOK. Why not visit and give her a high-five?

Trusting that the first two paperback copies of Momma Zen are headed in the right direction, and hoping that everyone carries through on their exclamatory promises to share and share alike, we call it a very good night.

Tomorrow, more stumbling forward on the march to Truth!

The giveaway that keeps giving away

November 2nd, 2007    -    64 Comments


All week long I’ve been teasing you with the claim that this was Grab Bag week at the Cheerio Road, promising that at the end of my interminable rambling there would be a goodie at the bottom of the bag.

This morning I reached into the bag and came up with a prize . . . for me.

The Original Perfect Post Awards - Oct

Shawn awarded me A Perfect Post Award for that little list of trust I posted last week. Only Shawn knows how perfect this turn of events really is; how the universe delivers what you need courtesy of a sensitive, soulful mom working hard and long in the wee hours of Somewhere, Pennsylvania. This is one gift that really gives, since it corralled a herd of unsuspecting readers to this dinky one-lane road yesterday. I’m so grateful I could blog on that for 30 days, but I won’t, I’ll get back to the subject at hand.

At the verrrry bottom of the bag is the giveaway I have in mind to give away, and it’s not nearly so generous, since I bet I’ve already given something very much like it to nearly all of you. The brand new paperback edition of Momma Zen has arrived and honestly it makes me and my mother and her mother and my daughter and her daughter proud all over again. It’s right pretty. I will send this gleaming white prize, inscribed by the famous author of same, to one of you who wants it and tells me so in the comments section of this post by 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time on Sunday, Nov. 4. Now here’s the deal. If you get it and already have a copy of the book, promise me pretty please that you will give away the other copy to someone else who least expects it, because that’s how the Cheerio rolls and rolls and rolls and rolls back to you like it does to me. All the time.

An upstanding girl of 8 will choose the winner from all entries. She is trustworthy and honest and, unlike her mother, has never told a lie. But more about that next week when we talk about Truth with a capital T.

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The Zen bookshelf

October 12th, 2007    -    14 Comments

“I do not say that there is no Zen, but that there is no Zen teacher.” – Zen koan

Awhile ago I tumbled onto a blogger’s review of Momma Zen. I say “tumbled” because the writer didn’t share my elevated view of my work, and I fell down hard. She found the book a wee bit lacking and lamented that she didn’t learn anything new, finally confessing that she viewed mothers like me with half-pity, half-scorn.

The thing is, she was right about everything, even the pity part, because I bet even you pity me now.

Most people approach Buddhism the way they approach everything else: venturing only so far. They want to investigate, read, discuss and cogitate. They want to “wrap their minds around it.” This is precisely why I don’t play tennis. This is precisely why we don’t do most things.

But Zen isn’t like that, and reading a Zen book, a real Zen book, isn’t going to teach you anything new. It is going to reveal what you already know, the wisdom that you instantly recognize but have long since forgotten. When you read it, you won’t feel like you acquired anything at all, but rather like you dropped a lot of unnecessary stuff. Your breathing will relax and your tensions, ease. A good Zen book does all this by being about nothing at all.

So this weekend I want to leave you with a nice, empty bookshelf: a selection of contemporary and classic readings that I recommend. I do this as a gift to you and as recompense for the blind faith repeatedly misplaced in me by my publisher.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. This book is like a song; it’s like a whisper. The edited transcriptions of Suzuki Roshi’s talks are effortless and spare. Zen hors d’oeuvres they are, and yet somehow a complete meal.

Writing Down the Bones. Show me a writer without this on the shelf. Now show me the writer who truly appreciates how Natalie Goldberg applies the inscrutable words of her Zen teacher to her life and art. You be the one.

Letters to a Young Poet. This slim classic bears re-reading, especially if you find yourself still chasing the idea of a perfect life. Rilke is haunting as he speaks of true love as the mutual gift of solitude. It is startling to hear this from a die-hard romantic, and this makes him a must-read in the pantheon of inadvertent Zen masters.

Appreciate Your Life. My first teacher Maezumi Roshi never wrote a book. He never felt ready to add anything to the titanic body of Zen commentary. He was that wise. Before he died he cautioned me that his teachings were being editorially intellectualized, but this book offers the only way to hear the depth and nuance of his voice.

Tao te Ching. There are nearly 50 translations of the Tao te Ching out there to choose from. You can look or you can find. This ancient Chinese verse will help you locate your hara, the center of your being, because when you read it, the words will fall all the way down to your gut and echo back up again. Taoism is Zen’s cousin, inextricably akin, hence the striking family resemblance.

Finally, I am happy to reveal the winner of this week’s random drawing of commenters, as chosen by my able, honest and blind-folded assistant, Georgia. Marta will be receiving one of the first copies of The Best Buddhist Writing of 2007 as soon as I get one and I can inscribe it inscrutably. That will easily make her one of the best-read non-Buddhists on the block, which is naturally worth nothing at all.

Thank you all for a week of eloquence and honesty. Your attention is love, and I return it in full.


Room with a view

September 27th, 2007    -    4 Comments

Recounted in honor of the garden’s inclusion in this weekend’s California Garden and Landscape History Society tour of Japanese gardens:

I brightened in the backseat as the real estate agent detoured down Lima Street to tell the story of Italia Mia, the estate built in Sierra Madre at the century’s start by a southern heiress who fell in love with Italy but ended up here instead, a bon vivant who lavished her home with hillside gardens including this one – we stopped –now the oldest private Japanese garden in southern California. The little house came later behind this wrought iron fence bordered by a thicket of bamboo, beyond this garden gate with the kanji inscription that foretells mosses abundant as ocean waves, and farther on, inside the front door carved with bluebirds on a blossoming branch, and out back again into the open-armed garden, intact and exquisite, its ponds and rocks poised in amazing place since 1916, under the shifting shade of ancient sycamores, the water falling in the hushed company of a tea house, the pines pining and each perfect plant waiting patiently for a gardener.

The whole thing was built for Zen, the realtor added unknowingly, knowing nothing about us, knowing least of all how to judge the silence that had frozen us in place, breathless and still with the stunning arrival in a story that was suddenly ours.

P.S. All this, plus liftoff and effortless steering, too. Happy weekend, everyone. Happy everyone.

And back next week with more on this business of happiness.

Airing dirty laundry

September 25th, 2007    -    6 Comments

I once wrote a post titled “Hand wash cold.” That post generates more traffic than any snake oil in the blogosphere. It snares Googlers from Portugal to Peru, from Little Rock to Lichtenstein. These searchers come from the very places where garments that need to be hand washed cold are actually manufactured. I feel bad for these suds seekers, because they aren’t looking for anything loftier than laundering instructions. So I decided to give them what they came for. In the process, I realized that this is a zen meditation of its own kind.

1. Wipe the shaving stubble from a sink or rinse the motor oil from a pail.
2. Fill same with cold water.
3. Add a drizzle of gentle (read: expensive) laundry detergent or a spritz of dishwashing liquid to the water. Note: can also use bar soap, hand soap or no soap.
4. Slosh the water around to conjure up a few bubbles.
5. Submerge subject garment in water.
6. Let it sit.
7. Hours–or even days–later, remember.
8. Rinse it in clear, cold water. This special item is probably not the kind of thing that can survive twisting or wringing or even washing for that matter.
9. Which means that when you take it out you’ll have to hang it up over the bathtub to let the water drip out of it.
10. And that will probably cause the fabric dye to drip out of it too, creating streaks of variable density and lasting annoyance. Remember too late that the garment had some kind of warning about this too.
11. When it dries, the item will be six inches longer than when you purchased it. Or six inches shorter. Or six inches longer on one side; six inches shorter on the other.
12. You might wish that you had laid it flat to dry, which would take so long that it mildewed before you could wear it again.

All of this effort will allow you to wear the item once before you resolve to (a) never buy anything else that has to be hand washed cold, or (b) never wash it, thereby transcending all questions and eliminating all doubt.

If you lived here

September 14th, 2007    -    7 Comments


When I stepped outside the door a few months ago I was hoping to run into some familiar faces. That I did, but I also nosed around the neighborhood and discovered the most fascinating strangers right next door. You’re invited to a block party this weekend to mingle with:

Anonymous Mama – who writes about biracial marriage, autism, love, longing, and every sort of addiction between s and x with such power, passion and truth that she regularly singes my eyebrows. She brings us a main course every time she drops by.

Rabbi Mommy – who flavors her cooking with unexpected combinations, and tosses up the kind of hearty and nutritious dishes you’ve never tried before.

Utah Mom – Faithful and freethinking, she dollops her confections with an irresistible streak of rebellion. She brought me this cup of sugar today.

And you? Just bring an appetite for adventure, and make yourself at home.

Miracle infertility cure

September 9th, 2007    -    2 Comments


We pause our regularly scheduled programming for this miracle.

About a year ago, I fumbled my way onto a blog of someone just like me, just like you, who was writing bravely about her hope, ambivalence, fear and conflicting desires about becoming a mother. She was afraid she had waited too long, afraid she didn’t want it enough, afraid of miscarrying again, afraid of trying and afraid of not trying. She had lots of good reasons to feel this way. I contacted her, just to be a nuisance, and assured her that it was not too late, that no reason why not was ever good enough, that miracles do happen, and sent her my book as proof.

Please join in my deep joy as we welcome Claire Georgia Harper, born Sept. 8.

My heart explodes. The love rolls on. That’s how the cheerio goes.

Last laugh

September 6th, 2007    -    6 Comments


When it appears in a spread, this enigmatic card heralds unexpected events and sudden inspirations. He may foretell breathtaking coincidences which have the power to upturn an ordinary life. He represents, above all, the transformational spirit of anarchy and the impersonal forces of destiny. We are foolish to believe we can totally control our own or other people’s lives, he says.

The school calendar tells me that this is the last day of summer. These ten weeks have been a riot, and not necessarily a laugh riot. But something tells me all that is about to change. I feel a take-off rumbling; I feel a buzz. This kind of a turning point calls for a little review. This was the summer that:

We traveled cross-country to witness the rocket launch that wasn’t.

The household plumbing pooped out and required emergency neurosurgery.

The new pipes caused a pressure surge that broke the washing machine.

The repairman mixed up the hot for the cold and I shrunk my new cotton cargoes.

Our new neighbor turned out to be a dastardly developer who built a menacing addition overlooking our century-old garden, then put the property on the market where it remains empty, overpriced, unkempt and unsold. (Wanted: rich new neighbors with a friendly 8-year-old girl.)

Posthaste we put in a fifty-foot stretch of exotic bamboo, a stash of cash and a fountain of tears into this old patch of dirt to vainly recapture what used to be.

Last night, in the thick of concocting a casserole for this morning’s teacher appreciation breakfast, the oven died. (I’m broken up over this one.)

And within the last 10 days I have found, on two separate and creepy occasions, a Joker card mysteriously placed under my bedroom rug by an unknown interloper. Two cards from a deck we do not own. The police have been called and precautions taken.

All of this culminates just as I have resolved to stop all my bellyaching. There are many out there who are much better at it than me (the bellyaching) and drop-dead (funny) to boot. With my next post I will go back to the basics, my own calling card, and make a practice of demystifying the enigmatic Zen teachings that eternally perplex us in plain sight, tricking us, surprising us, upturning and illuminating our deluded view of ordinary life. Who else but me can do that? Who else ever would? No, the world will never notice. And so it will ever be.

And just for the record, should something else untoward happen – should the Joker reappear for one last laugh – here’s a clue: Colonel Mustard, with the candlestick, in the Conservatory.

Me TV

August 31st, 2007    -    7 Comments

We all wait in vain for our 15 minutes. Wouldn’t you know I only got 5? Here’s a short video interview with me about Momma Zen. And the must-see part: it’s in my own backyard. Because what’s Labor Day without a telethon?

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