An early start on an easy load!
(Taking pre-orders before it’s even dry.)
An early start on an easy load!
(Taking pre-orders before it’s even dry.)
“If my book gets published, I’ll be famous!”
“No, if you get famous, they’ll publish your book!”
– Ted Weinstein, my infuriatingly brilliant agent
Since it is the season of camps, I’ll send you straight to the source of enlightenment on how the nonfiction publishing business works (and often doesn’t). See all of Ted’s online resources: a snazzy book proposal template, audio workshops and more. It’s all free! And if your aspirations make it out alive, haul yourself back to the keyboard and pound your writing to life.
*A hope note given to me by Jen Lemen.
The other night at the bookstore I handed out a list of my recommended summer spiritual reads, and even though I’ve shared some of these before, and even though one of them has been around for two thousand summers, I thought I’d share them again. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for something amazing and true.
Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu and Stephen Mitchell – my favorite translation of the ancient Chinese text that informed the ancestry of Zen. Easy, accessible, beautiful and intuitively meaningful.
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke – a hauntingly honest and powerful response to the question of life’s meaning, particularly to those still chasing idealized notions of love and work.
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi – a lovely book “not about Zen,” but rather the spirit of Zen conveyed in talks given by this 20th century teacher. Effortless and spare, this slim work satisfies as a full meal.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – Pulitzer Prize winning novel and modern spiritual classic. An aging country preacher testifies to the plain and lucid miracle of existence in a memoir left to a young son.
Endpoint and Other Poems by John Updike – A collection of poems written by the late novelist in the last seven years of his life and assembled shortly before his death. Clear-eyed, stunning and resonant.
My Grandfather’s Blessings by Rachel Noemi Remen, MD – The kitchen table storyteller uses recollections of her rabbi grandfather to spiritualize everyday life.
Off for a weekend in San Francisco with family and new friends. Bay Area denizens: Come and get your zenagains!
Thank you so much for writing Momma Zen, or as the title is in Dutch: Zen Mama! I enjoyed every minute of it. You helped me so much with all kinds of struggles that I have had as a mother. Your book inspired me to look at life differently, to see all the beauty that is around me, in my children, in my marriage, in my work. I am kind of a hyperactive person some times and after the birth of my youngest daughter, I lost all my flexibility in life. I could no longer look at the bright side of life, felt so guilty towards my daughter at not being able to solve her problems and really fought hard to get myself back on track. Then I read about your book, ran to the bookstore, started reading and could not stop for a couple of hours. I think I never quoted a book so many times in conversations with my husband because you used the words in your book that I was looking for.
You have no idea what you did for me and my family. I am so happy at the moment, enjoying every minute of my two beautiful girls without doubting if I am a good mother. Thanks Karen for everything!
Every friend of mine that celebrates her birthday will receive your book for the coming years.
I have 27 pages of emails like this, 9500 words, from four continents. They are the world to me.
Thanks to our friends, customers, neighbors, fans and unexpected benefactors on a journey into this wild blue wonder.
Here’s a little story about spiritual pilgrimage for those of you who are traveling to my city of angels this weekend for the Mother’s Plunge – and those of you who aren’t. The extraordinary response to the first splash has me planning a countrywide tour of backward steps. Where should I bring the retreat next? Minnesota? Arizona? Kansas? Tell me.
Even the man at Marshall Field’s who had sold me the yellow travel umbrella had said it: “You must go to Assisi.”
Everyone, it seemed, had said it – You must go to Assisi! – and so the fifth day of a solo trip to Italy became the day for me to go the distance. It would require a car, which I obtained from a rental agency a few blocks from my hotel in Florence. It would require getting out of town, which I accomplished with an angel on the dashboard. And it would require a couple hours’ drive south on the Autostrada, which I high-tailed in the slipstream of the surging traffic.
“You will see it on the hill,” another advisor had told me rapturously. And I did, in a purple haze of trees and tile and imagination. I steered my little vehicle onward in the soldierly direction, ascending the hill and circling the top, passing the marked parking lots with all the beached buses, inching slowly alongside the streams of tourists who had come for the St. Francis experience, motoring up the wrong streets and down again until I mustered my purpose and pulled over on a narrow hillside shoulder. I angled in among the other likeminded pilgrims who were committing, I hoped, the pardonable sin of illegal parking.
I strode upward to the Basilica de San Francisco. It was big, too big, outsized for its namesake, and oddly uninspiring, I thought. Inside to more frescoes, more pews, more people, and decidedly more organization than in the other sacred spots I’d stopped. This, I could see, was a system.
I headed down into the crypts containing St. Francis’ tomb and there uncovered the day’s only treasure. “Scusa, scusa,” the ushers whispered to those, like me, who had barged in to bystand at the wedding ceremony underway in the underground chapel. I lingered in the shadows at the rear, charmed by the elaborate smallness of it. A local couple surrounded by local people, wearing uncomfortable new clothes for the biggest event of their lives.
Leaving, I wandered the winding medieval village. The heat had turned the streets into baking stones.
“You will feel it in the air,” another friend had confided. I felt stifling languor and epidemic disinterest. Wandering into an antique shop, my idle browsing did not disturb the mistress at the back watching American TV soap operas dubbed in Italian.
Then the divine message arrived.
Every place is holy.
It was my departing thought, a conclusion and a comfort, and I headed home, satisfied.
I’ve just come from two events: sitting a day at the Zen center, and performing the monthly memorial service for lost children. You might think I do these things for a reason. In a way, I do. They are acts of compassion. But in truth, I do them just to do them, because they appear due on my calendar to be done, and that is what true compassion is: the absence of a qualifying rationale. The absence of self-service. They are good, but not in a way I can know or identify. Not necessarily in a way I can see. They are good because they are not tied to the expectation of an outcome.
The first book I stumbled across when I started to look beyond hope and reason for spiritual salvation was that slender remedy, The Tao te Ching. All the verses struck me, sung me, rung me, but none more than one that went slightly like this (memory serves when memory fades):
In the absence of the Tao there is goodness
In the absence of goodness there is morality
In the absence of morality there is piety
Even in my faulty recollection you can begin to see the essence of the wisdom. You can see the erring ways we layer our value judgments onto reality, to the fundamental truth of what is, and propel ourselves farther into self-righteousness and intolerance.
Beyond the superficial clouds of reason, thinking, introspection and wise explanation is the clear blue sky of wisdom and the deep ocean of compassion.
All this is a delinquent announcement of a trip north I’m taking later this month to give a free talk at the South San Francisco Public Library on Saturday, June 27 at 2 p.m. I don’t know if anyone will be there. I don’t know many people in the area. There’s no particular reason I’m going, except that they asked me. Have compassion and come! I’ll meet you due north – true north – for no good reason at all. Perhaps good will come.
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It’s the full-time job of a writer to keep reading, so I just finished two delicious books to send your way with a chance to win and a 100 percent guarantee that either is worth buying anyway. Leave a comment below to enter the giveaway. But let me whet your appetite first:
Eve: A Novel of the First Woman – You will love this sumptuous tale of Eden’s Eve and her troublesome family. Ever since I read The Red Tent I’ve been convinced that bible stories could bear retelling from a woman’s point of view, because then they become stories I want to read. Author Elissa Elliott made this tale real and recognizable to any woman. I’m no biblical historian, thank heaven, so nothing stopped me from appreciating the sheer magic of the fiction. This is Elissa’s first book, and writer-to-writer I just can’t imagine how she made the whole thing up. Let this inspire your deep wondering about who we really are. I have a hardcover copy to give away.
Mating Rituals of the North American WASP – Now for a different slice of the apple. Here’s a love story spun in a wickedly comic way by Lauren Lipton about a girl who wakes up married to a guy she doesn’t even know, gets engaged to another she hardly ever sees, and dates someone she can’t even stand. I know, it sounds dangerously close to reality, but unlike my life story, this one will be a movie. Funny, smart, likable and the perfect fit for any summer tote bag. Let this inspire a day at the beach, the pool or the hammock. I have a paperback copy to give away.
Leave a comment including a way to reach you through your blog or email. I’ll draw the winners (and I’ll decide what you win) after this Friday at 6 p.m. PDT.
Calling all summer readers! There are more words of wisdom in store at the Mother’s Summer Reading Salon with Mojo Mom Amy Tiemann and me on Tuesday, June 23, 7 p.m. at Sierra Madre Books. Learn how a little light reading can change your direction this summer.
For the before, click here.
Thank you for helping us doing our book. You are a very good author. Yesterday at the book tour I was kind of shy to read it but then I was very excited to do it. The kids asked us how many months did it take to do the book. We said it took us about 2 months. We kind of got like every kid’s question. They loved us and they loved our books a lot. One of the kids said I want to be an author too!
You are the best author ever in the whole wide world!
When a four- or five-year-old uses the word, bored, it’s a safe bet they are playing with the word. But when they are eight or nine, it might be time to pay attention. When I did, it changed my life.
I like Georgia’s historic, charming, well-staffed, well-intentioned public school. She does too. This post is not about the shortcomings of her school. It is about the shortcomings of my attention.
My daughter and her classmates are being taught superlatively well how to write to rules and rubrics. But to write freely, for fun and without judgment? That’s a different story.
Stuck in my own nowhere of creative momentum, I plunged instead into a new adventure. I proposed to Georgia’s teacher that I lead a classroom project in something I’d never done, but that amounted to the only thing I could contribute. The magnificent teacher did her part: she said yes. Then, over a four-month period, she and I worked together with 19 third-graders to write their own creative nonfiction (and a bit of fiction) stories.
We tell our children stories. We read books aloud, and prod our kids to read for themselves. So they read about famous people, folk tales and legends, biographies, historical fiction and fantasies. But do they realize that their own lives are stories? That they have the experience and imagination to create and share stories that come entirely from themselves? Based on their own remarkable lives and the future they envision?
Well, of course, they can. Give them tools and attention and you will be amazed. I was amazed. I was encouraged. I was uplifted and transported. I was repaid a million times over, with the only payment that counts or lasts.
I want you to know that wherever your child goes to school, or doesn’t, whatever their age or grade level, they are brilliant. They are geniuses. They are authors. I am convinced already. I am their first fan.
I word-processed and printed out each three-chapter-long book on my computer. They drew illustrations and a cover design that we laminated. They wrote author bios and I snapped their photos and we put that together on the last page. We spiral bound everything together and then they went on book tour reading their stories aloud in classrooms of younger ages. We’re having a book festival next week where the kids will read their stories to their fellow authors and everyone gets a literary prize. An eraser. Oh how I prize my own, because the most important thing about writing is not that you finish. It’s that you start, and then start all over again.
What did they write? To keep it short, I assembled 19 lines from their work into this abridged life story. It gives you an idea of the treasure they handed to me.
My story is unlike any other.
I was born early because I wanted to go places.
My first smile wasn’t a real smile, it was my “about to cry” smile.
It was like being sad and happy at the same time.
When I was little I liked excitement. I put Cheetos in the microwave.
When people asked how many friends I had, I said, “It would take a long time to count them.”
It seems like I have friends all over the world.
Friends are magic, movies are magic and spelling is magic because people can read your writing.
Making people feel happy and safe is the most important thing there is.
Everywhere we went, we went fast.
I thought a lot about growing up, but my parents thought about when I was little.
That’s what parents do.
Sometimes you have to lose something to find something better.
What you love never really goes away.
I used to want to work in an ice cream store, but something tells me life will be more interesting than that.
The day you read this I may be 9 or 90.
Now my energy goes up in the daytime and down in the nighttime.
The funeral lasted three hours.
Somewhere I’ll be watching, and I’ll be happy if you are good citizens.
I could go on forever, but my heart is bursting, and I find I have some writing to do.
If you are a parent or teacher and you would like a copy of the lesson plan I created for this project, “My Life Story: A Creative Nonfiction Project for 3rd Graders,” just leave a comment with a way to contact you, or email me and I’ll gladly share.
I was embarrassed and alarmed.
Frank Rich’s column in the Times includes this fact “more than 60 percent of Twitter users abandon it after a single month.”
I’m still afraid the future will sail without me.
On speakerphone so we could wish her a happy mother’s day, my mother-in-law asks, “What will your mommy do today?” My daughter says, “Exercise and write by herself.” My mother-in-law replies, “Doesn’t she do that everyday?”
I never know where she’s coming from.
Wish Studio posted this essay describing my creative process, which seems like a misnomer. My output is painstaking and small but I get a big kick out of looking the part.
Break the bottle, make a space and let it be.
Faith arises from mystery like the peppermints from the bottom of your grandma’s handbag.
Go straightaway and read this newest story of mine, which isn’t my story at all, but theirs retold.
Here’s what got me there. Some years ago the service liturgy at my Zen Center was appended so that when we recite the names of all the male enlightened masters in my Zen lineage (81 generations and counting) we chant the following dedication at the very end:
And to all our female ancestors whose names have been lost or forgotten.
Because, as a matter of housekeeping, we have lost or forgotten their names. That’s what can happen in patriarchal institutions of all kinds, which is what all kinds of institutions are. The women are no less integral or involved in keeping house, their names are simply lost or forgotten. Ahem.
When we first started to chant this invocation, at my teacher’s insistence by the way, I heard it as I suspect my own daughter hears the invocations I recite:
Then one day I started listening to the words. All. Our. Female. Ancestors.
What immediately came to mind was just that. All. Our. Female. Ancestors. The ones whose names I know and the ones whose names I don’t. Like my Grandma Tate or my Grandma Patschke, whose own given names I scarcely knew. Was it Irma or Erma? Cordelia or Cornelia? Alverno or Alvina? Heddie or Hattie? Did I know them at all when I knew them? Did I know anything at all of their lives of love and loss, betrayal and forgiveness, cynicism and faith? Do I know them yet?
Lately I’ve been drawn to the voices of women, voices unsung and voices unheard. I want to listen. I want everyone to listen to women of found faith and women of lost faith. Women of faith forsaken and faith restored. That’s what drew me to this story, her story, that I posted some months ago. That’s what drew me to this story, their stories, the one that runs today. Please read this one and share it, sing it, heal it, love it, as only we can. We have all waited so long for the listening.
And if you wonder or worry why I would place any article of mine in a magazine entitled Killing the Buddha (interestingly enough, it is based on a Zen teaching), the answers are easy. First, these open-eyed editors heard the deep timbre of an ancestral song and asked to broadcast it. Second, in a world of misguided institutions and ideologies, eradicating the false altar of a misunderstood and misappropriated Asian male deity is nothing other than the ultimate kindness. Like when grandma plumbed the recesses of her Sunday purse to proffer a peppermint candy, soothing your cough during a horrendously long sermon in the steam of a mid-summer Sunday in Central Texas. A miracle, I tell you.
That a group of wild-eyed religious iconoclasts would respond to this truth with such immediacy and sensitivity is evidence of the bottomless, benevolent mystery of God’s handbag. All my grandmothers have carried the very same bag. Whether you know it or not, so do you. From it, miracles come.