Posts Tagged ‘Writing Life’

the song of your life

May 15th, 2011    -    25 Comments

This is a passage from my next book, No Trace of My Teacher: Finding Faith in Your Days. I wrote it last night. The parts in italics are the words of Maezumi Roshi.

He only hears the cicadas singing in the maple-woods.

the Ten Oxherding Pictures

When I was little, I spent nearly every weekend at my grandparents’ house in the middle of the Ventura County orange groves about an hour north of Los Angeles.

Theirs was a tiny house, with only four rooms, and I slept in one with my grandfather. He could snore like a bear, but I never heard him snore, or at least I was never troubled to hear it. What I heard at night, through the screen door, atop the dark chill that carried the smell of sandy dirt and orange essence, were the crickets.

I just heard the crickets.

I didn’t make any meaning of it then – four-year-olds don’t yet assign meaning to things – and I don’t make any meaning of it now.

I simply heard the crickets and I knew they were crickets and I knew where I was and how I was and what time it was and what it was time to do. I knew everything that you know when you hear a cricket, which is actually quite a bit, so much that you can’t really explain it all. And the good thing is, you don’t have to.

I’m reciting all this here and now because lately when I toss in my bed, I can remember what I knew for sure when I was four or five and heard the crickets. I am fifty years older now and my head is crowded with far more than it needs to be – fear, for instance, of being 54, and worry, and doubts about my work, especially this work, and my daughter and whether she will be okay and not too disappointed or hurt and then the prescription that needs refilling and the bills that need paid and I forgot, what did I forget, oh that’s right I forgot to call, to fix, to sign, to return, to finish, to start – and for all I know there are crickets outside my own window right now but most of the time I’m making far too much noise between my ears to hear them.

That’s what can come between the hearing and the knowing, between the lost and the found, and between the fear and the faith. That’s all there is to let go of: what we keep putting in-between.

Hearing the sound, seeing the forms, many attain realization. Here where the verse says “He only hears the cicadas singing” what does it imply?

When I remember the sound of those country crickets these days, it’s not an emotional thing. It doesn’t trigger a sentiment as much as it awakens a sensation. A state of being that is effortless and relaxed, tucked into a small house under a vast and twinkling sky with a gentle grandfather beside me. When I remember that, I can drop the wiry tangle under my skin, the jangle inside my skull, and empty out what’s come in between me and a simple song.

When we see, when we hear, when we feel, when we smell, when we think, or when we perceive, conceive: right there, the author urges us to realize, “Why don’t you hear cicadas singing as the song of your life!” instead of just listening to it as a lousy noise something outside is making.

Oh that – that’s just a cricket.

Beginner’s Mind One-Day Meditation Retreat, LA, Sun., June 12

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juicy oreo wednesday

May 11th, 2011    -    79 Comments

Book Review & Giveaway
By Georgia Miller

Rip the Page! by Karen Benke is great for the young, aspiring writer. It features everything from ideas to poems. It even has a list of 24 of Karen’s fave words! And, it lives up to its name – there are even places where you can literally rip the page! There are letters written to the reader from authors such as Lemony Snicket and Annie Barrows.

This book will help kids start writing because it gives great ideas, support and different ways to write. It gives examples of fun words to use, and tells how to write poems. Once the author tells you about a way of writing, she gives you a blank page to try it out on. It really helps to put the fun into writing. Now I’m going to share some of my favorite words:
Guadalupe
Basenji
Antidisestablishmentarianism
Bacon
Gymnastics
Juicy
Oreo
Wednesday
Turtle
Frog
Marshmallow
Actually, those are just random words that I happen to like. The point is, though, that this really is a great book for young writers like me. So I give this book two thumbs up! I really love it!

***
You may win a copy of this book by leaving a comment telling Georgia your favorite word. Enter by next Tuesday. She will announce the winner, naturally, on Wednesday, May 18.

The Winner: Georgia selected comment #55, from Caitlin, for her word, “gubbins.” Thank you everyone for your wordplay!

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i wanted to like it

April 17th, 2011    -    28 Comments

If you wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything.

Verses on the Faith Mind

I just finished reading a book. I wanted to like it.

Those last five words I wanted to like it are the tip-off to any author that her book is about to get trashed. I wanted to like it is an absolution before the executioner goes to work. I could write a wicked little bit on Goodreads, a quick dismissal, an eternal damnation, and a triumphant last word. One star. I thought so much about my clever condemnation while I was reading that I literally felt sick. I had to wonder what was more disagreeable: the book or me?

So I stopped myself.

Writers get trashed a lot. Is it more than chefs or dry cleaners or college professors or car detailers? Probably not. The web has made everyone a public critic of everything. Sometimes that’s all the interactive media seems to be: a shooting range. The whole world is erupting in opinions. We all have opinions. The problem starts when you cherish your opinions, when you elevate them, and, yes, even when you express them. Why express an opinion except to elevate yourself and demean others? Loft your opinion and it’s going to land somewhere it hurts. You might even shoot yourself. Look closely to see what you are sharing when you unleash poison and pain.

In my humble opinion, there’s no such thing as a humble opinion.

All this gives me pause about the way I glibly injure innocents and overlook the truth. What do I mean by the truth? The truth is what you don’t read in a book, and even less, what you think of it.

I just finished reading a book. I’d say more, but I’m finished.

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groupon nation

April 5th, 2011    -    75 Comments

Your writing will not save you. Managing to be published will not save you. Don’t be deluded. – Joyce Carol Oates

Every morning when I click on my email and see the daily offer from Groupon, I feel a little twinge. I may or may not read it. I may or may not know the business. But I definitely will not use it. I am heartsick over all the businesses that will not be saved by Groupon.

Your couponing will not save you.

This post is not about the relative merits or demerits of social couponing. Yes, I understand it is the latest big thing. It is the big thing that reminds me a lot of the last big thing. We have a remarkable capacity in this nation to make each other poor – and call it the next big thing. We have a remarkable capacity to demean and devalue each other, and degrade the decent work we all do. We might even call it progress. To want something for nothing, to take more and pay less, to come out ahead, as if we can stand taller on the cumulative loss from our cheap, daily deal making.

Don’t be deluded.

This treatise may be inspired by the bloodthirsty union-busting that passes as budget balancing in our statehouses, or the arrogant idiocy of the other side in Congress. Or it may have something to do with our income tax returns. My husband finished them last weekend, and in a sign of his unshakable goodness, he did not report that my net income last year had inched valiantly up, to the round number that is the very lowest of the low five-figures. He has, over these 16 years, made what amounts to a guaranteed, year-over-year, skyrocketing investment in my poverty.

Your writing will not save you.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not some big-timer. I am not like, say, Joyce Carol Oates, the Pulitzer Prize winner, author of bestselling books too numerous to count, collector of accolades too voluminous to mention, including several rumored Nobel Prizes, whose recent memoir from the abyss of her widowhood included the remarkable passage I quote above.

Managing to get anything will not save you.

At this point in my so-called life I feel like I did about a half-second after I got married, when I had a startling realization. Someone has to be the wife! And then a half-second after I gave birth: Someone has to be the mother! And now: Someone has to be the priest! Each of these revelations occurred after I’d made an avowed commitment to do something that I had no earthly idea how to do. That’s the way vows work: forever after, or they don’t work at all. read more

of particular note

February 23rd, 2011    -    6 Comments

We have two prolific orange trees in the front yard, easily 40 or more years old but still reliably producing. There are probably 500 oranges right outside my front door perched in the trees until they get picked for juice or fruit. They don’t bother us, don’t fuss, and rarely fall. Suppose I went out and plucked a barrel, simmered them up into sloppy marmalade and rubbed it all over the bottom of your shoes?

That’s what I feel like I do when I share items like these. But hey, it’s a lonely life for all of us, the oranges too, until someone gets drunk on the juice.

This is a new anthology that borrows a previously published magazine piece of mine. Publisher’s Weekly says it has an “unsurprising lineup” of writers but “of particular note is Karen Maezen Miller’s meditation on housework.” It pays to be particular! Well, it doesn’t pay money but it still tastes good on the tongue.

Got a total kick out of this library user (damn libraries) who recounts how she wandered through the shelves in the 200s section and found someone who writes like a “normal person who happens to be a Zen Buddhist priest”  . . . “totally lacking in any conversionary rah-rah sentiments that would make me drop the book in a heap on the floor.” That’s one less fall from grace for me, and it’ll do nicely for a change.

And finally, from time to time someone will write a tiny thank you and I will respond with a teeny you’re welcome and what comes next is a heart’s rush of such power and poignancy that I trust again and know again and hope again and start all over again. The courage to keep going comes from each other.

On that note, sing.

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so-called authenticity

February 3rd, 2011    -    17 Comments

My teacher Maezumi Roshi used the word so-called a lot. He used it before every word that really wasn’t what it stood for. (That’s every word.) It’s such an efficient way to point out the source of our confusion: confusing the way things really are with the mental artifice of words and concepts.

That’s why I’m majorly peeved by the word authenticity. As soon as I say it, I’m not. Just the notion that there is a way to be more real than you already are is a lie. People who trade in authenticity trade in deception, and it’s a deception that they reinforce by their own salesmanship. So I was happy to expound on the word “authenticity” for the extraordinarily authentic Irène Nam and her recent Simple Soulful photography workshop. Here’s what I said:

What I like to remind people is that authenticity is just a word. It is a word for what you already are. Never let anyone lecture you about what authenticity means, or how to have more of it. You have it in abundant supply. You just don’t believe it.

And then I said a lot more. Oops. Listen only if you have the heart for what is real.

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the living brush

January 28th, 2011    -    3 Comments

It was in February, a week before Maezumi Roshi’s birthday, only his 64th.  I’d thought that I would leave him a little something behind before I raced back home, a poem or a line inscribed when inspiration arrived.  Nothing arrived, and I hurriedly copied a story from a book I carried with me, a book of stories by William Maxwell called All the Days and Nights. The book was a treasure trove, and I’d read and recommended it frequently in the weeks since I’d beelined for the bookstore, upon hearing the delicate, eighty something voice of the author on the car radio one night.  I was at a stoplight on the way home from work and I heard him say, “I’m astonished that there always is a story, but first it has to come out of the absolutely emptied mind, the mysterious.”

The story I copied was called “The Man Who Lost His Father.”

People ask me how I write. I can’t really say, and I really can’t teach it. I’m not sure that anyone can teach you how to write. But this, I can teach.

Please read about The Living Brush, my first creativity retreat for writers and artists, by scrolling down to the depths of my Retreats page. Then let me hear from you.

Illustration (c) 2010 Andrew Buckle

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flagwaving

July 5th, 2010    -    12 Comments

If you’ve read Hand Wash Cold or Momma Zen, unfurl your colors. Go to Amazon or Goodreads and enter a new rating or a review for either or both books, then come back here and leave me a comment telling me so. At the end of the week I’ll draw a winner from the comments here to receive two free signed copies. So you can have your flag and wave it too.

Edited to add: Winners of this giveaway are Shana and Jim. But the commenters have already given me the grand prize. Thank you, everyone!

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baggage carousel 2

May 15th, 2010    -    3 Comments

I hit the jackpot at an amazing Kitchen Table potluck in Reno last week and now I’m about to plunge north for a sold-out mother’s weekend in the Bay Area,  so here is another short spin in lieu of a stop. Setting down these few things for you to open as your own:

Giving the moon to the Sun – Every time they ask, I give the moon to the Shambhala Sun.  If you have silver to spare, check out their first-ever Auction for a Mindful Society opening this week. It includes many treasures worth pondering. And then there’s this, which is only worth a little.

“How do I begin?” – A question I’m asked over and over. Here is your personal invitation to start with me as I lead a beginner’s one-day retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles on Sun., June 6 from 9-5. Informal, sincere, intimate, meaningful instruction on how to begin a meditation practice. You’ll be on your way in no time. Contact me with your questions. Overnight accommodations can be arranged for long-distance travelers.

“Soul Centered” – A destination I’ve added to my Kansas City itinerary. Join my friend Jill Tupper and me on Sat., May 29 for a morning retreat at Unity on the Plaza. Because nothing brings you back home faster than a friend.

“I was asked to write a book.” – a dharma sister from the Hazy Moon Zen Center interviews me on writing as practice. Here’s where you’ll find the story behind the story, and how Zen infuses it all.

“Now I’m asking you to review it.” – If you’ve read Hand Wash Cold, please consider writing on online review on Amazon, Goodreads, or both. You have no idea how much you matter in the scheme of things. And if you think it is beneath an author to request a review, once you’ve read it you’ll know that absolutely nothing is beneath me. Thank you.

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baggage carousel

May 10th, 2010    -    3 Comments

Home from the awe and astonishment of my visit to the Rothko Chapel and a wave of new friends in Houston, heading on to Kitchen Tables in Pasadena and Reno this week, here is a short spin in lieu of a stop. Setting down these few things for you to open as your own:

“I was asked to write a book.” – a dharma sister from the Hazy Moon Zen Center interviews me on writing as practice. Here’s where you’ll find the story behind the story, and how Zen infuses it all.

“All she got was a lemon.” – Author Katrina Kenison writes about our fast friendship, sharing  the magic of companionship on the literary and spiritual path.

“Soul, a center” – A destination I’ve added to my Kansas City itinerary. Join my friend Jill Tupper and me on Sat., May 29 for a morning retreat at Unity on the Plaza. Because nothing brings you back home faster than a friend.

“How do I begin?” – A question I’m asked over and over. Here is your personal invitation to start with me as I lead a beginner’s one-day retreat at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles on Sun., June 6 from 9-5. Informal, sincere, intimate, meaningful instruction on how to begin a meditation practice. You’ll be on your way in no time. Contact me with your questions. Overnight accommodations can be arranged for long-distance travelers.

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they don’t pay us to write books

April 11th, 2010    -    16 Comments

They don’t pay us to write books. They could not pay us enough to write books, and even though they do pay us a cash sum that arrives just in time so we can avoid the late penalties on our delinquencies, in relative terms we write for free. What they pay us for is to sell books. Once I grasped this I understood a lot. Writing has almost nothing to do with the life of a book. Nowadays this does not trouble me. Giving yourself away is a good and necessary practice if you want to have a book to sell. And for that matter, if you want to have a life to share. Giving yourself away is how to enrich your life.

I toss this out to recalibrate certain conversations and events. My bemused husband looked up from filing taxes last week to tell me my yearly net income had fallen into four figures. I hear the steady lament of a first-time author struggling under the hidden cost of a late manuscript that keeps her from taking other work. I read this poignant realization by a successful memoirist that the brass ring is not only brass, it’s got a hole in the middle. Then I read this post by a writer who repaid her advance and canceled her contract, accepting that her life, her passion, her family and the money no longer fit. And all of this occurs against the incessant chirps of would-be writers chronicling every joyous step on a career ascent to heights as yet unforeseeable, but in which real money and tangible consequences are clearly expected.

To be sure, there must be some authors for whom my take on this scenario is patently false. The kind of authors who earn substantial living wages and repay the faith of publishers many times over. read more

hand wash cold excerpt

March 19th, 2010    -    20 Comments

Chapter One: Full Basket
A life as told by laundry

Life is laundry.

When I say that, I don’t mean I do a lot of laundry, although I do. I just started my fifth load this week and it’s only Tuesday. Still, some folks do more and some folks do less. Either way, that’s not the point.

I don’t mean my life is like laundry, although it is. Troubles pile up, and I ignore them as long as I can. Just about the time I sort through the heap, clean it, and stash it away, it reappears and I have to take care of it all over again. So yes, life is like laundry, but that’s not what I mean either.

I mean life is laundry, and when you do not yet see that your life is laundry, you may not see your life clearly at all. You might think, for instance, that the life you have is not the life you had in mind and so it doesn’t constitute your real life at all. Your real life is the life you pine for, the life you’re planning or the life you’ve already lost, the life fulfilled by the person, place, and sexy new front-loading washer of your dreams. This is the life we are most devoted to: the life we don’t have.

When I was thirty-five, I looked up one day and realized that I hadn’t had a life. Oh, I’d had a lot of things. I’d had a husband and a marriage of sorts. In fact, I still did. Between us, we had two late-model cars, two high-speed careers, and a two-story house on an oak-lined street where people left their blinds open so everyone else could look in and sigh. I had a great job working with talented and energetic people at my own company. I worked too hard, but I made enough money. I had a pool, and even a little pool house, neither of which I ever found the time or friends to fill. I had my youth. I had my looks, and I had the self-devotion to maintain them at any cost. I had fancy jewelry and cookware for which I had no use. What I did not have was laundry.

I had no laundry. I had clothing, and plenty of it, but I also had Theresa, who week after week did lifetimes’ worth of other people’s laundry, including my own. For more than ten years running, Theresa came to my house each Wednesday when no one was home. Except for the rare coincidence when I might be waylaid in bed by the sniffles, I never saw her come, I never saw her leave, and I never saw what she did in between. In this way, we had the strangest kind of intimacy.

She saw my underwear. She soaked my stains. She smelled my sweat. She did the same for my husband, all of which I refused to do. She swept and polished, emptied the trash and the hampers, and filled the house with a heady haze of lemony pine. Upstairs, on opposite sides of our bed, she laid our warm, clean laundry folded in his and her stacks. Everything was in its place. Only it wasn’t my place, because it wasn’t my life. My life was going to begin on some other day, when I had myself situated in some better place. read more

nothing left over

March 10th, 2010    -    54 Comments

One of my readers is having a giveaway of Momma Zen this week. Not even a new Momma Zen, but one she’s read a couple times. (Those are the best kind.) Seeing the enthusiasm people have for the leftovers gave me the idea to do something I haven’t done for a while: empty the closet. I have a load that’s drying on the line, and it’s time to make room.

Leave me a comment if you’d like to claim any of these books, held by my own grubby hands and greedily consumed by my literary appetite. I’ll choose the winners on Sunday evening, March 14 and ship them out.

Gardens of Water by Alan Drew – a stunning first novel about the cultural cataclysm between American Christians and Turkish Muslims in the aftermath of the 1999 earthquake.

How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill – decidedly latte fare, a sweet, warm, and true tale of the fall and rise of a working man.

Seeking Peace by Mary Pipher – (hardback) The bestselling author and psychologist writes about waking up on the dark side of fame, and how Buddhism saved her.

Momma Zen – a brand new one, because when you drop everything you’re holding onto, it’s always brand new.

Edited to announce winners: Bridget, Corinne, Marilyn and Jillian.

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