Rules for waiting, and a giveaway

March 15th, 2009

Spoiler alert: Blame it on the early stages of a woozy flu, hormone depletion, sleep deprivation, or the dark bluster of the Ides. This post is somewhat post.

The other day I was talking to my friend Amy Tiemann on the phone. On the phone, that’s right. How very 1.0. And she and I were in mutual agreement that life in these times can be summarized as follows: “How can people live in this world without going insane?”

Ain’t that the truth? But it’s not a new thing. More like an awakening to the way sentient beings have always been. These days the race to the next next next next new thing seems like a 75 rpm refrain. Rpm? How vintage! Everything is in an accelerated state of obsolescence. We cannot get to the next thing fast enough. As though it leads somewhere else, somewhere other than here.

Newspapers? History. Banks? Yesterday. Jobs? Obsolete. Conversation? Over. Time? Out.

These days you read a lot in these parts about Is the Blog Dead? I’m old enough to remember when that question was leveled with far more gravitas as Is God Dead? It’s spelled differently but it’s the very same question. It’s a kind of intellectual diversion from the real question; the only question there is which is Am I Going to Be Dead?

Or as I ask myself, Am I Going to Be Dead before I Twitter?

This is the kind of chatter, or should I say tweeting, that just exhausts me. I’ve been present at far too many revolutions already. They last a blink, a nano, before they crest into the oblivion beyond. Oh ye of unrelenting enthusiasms, aren’t you tired yet?


I’ve been reading far too much about Jane Fonda. I can’t quit. Ever since I read this profile in the Times about her brave return to Broadway at 71, and picked up on the fact that she was chronicling every inch of the ascent on her daily blog and Twitter. I’m obsessed with her, and it looks like she shares the obsession. Fonda is the icon of obsession for my generation, but she always seemed to hold herself at a remove. She always seemed to immerse herself in the great matter and the real questions. You can now read that in her dotage, for instance, she dotes on a dinky fluff-dog. You can read about her self-doubt and insecurities and think for a minute she’s just like us. Then you see pictures of her A-list BFFs: Redford, Tomlin, Hanks. “Oooooh I am so happy. I’ll twitter during my breaks.” She never stops, even though of course one day, and relatively soon, she’ll stop. In the meantime, she’s miniaturized herself, at least in my view, into 140 characters. To say that she is connecting with other people in this self-directed way is to say that these people from another story in Sunday’s paper are “making love.” Nothing could be farther. (Made ya look!)


Last week I had a disturbing and provocative dream. My husband, daughter and I were groping our way, on white-knuckles and knees, up a Sisyphean incline. It seemed we were going somewhere. Inching forward, sliding back, defying gravity. Ah yes, to the beach! At the peak of this grueling pitch, you could see the endless sky and ocean filling the horizon beyond. The massive swells and darkened depths. My husband and daughter hurried ahead, carefree. I had reservations. Gripping a paper shopping bag, I was anxiously collecting things you might think you need for a day on the sands of life: snack crackers, juice boxes, water bottles, seedless grapes, string cheese. I was desperate to fill my bag. Not yet, not yet! As I clutched after snack wrappers, my family disappeared into the downward slope. Just then the sea rose up to a perfect, towering vertical tsunami like the height of the stock market in October 2007. Everyone, everything would be swallowed by it. Everything would go.

This was no day at the beach. This was the answer to the unspeakable question.

Also last week I got an unexpected delivery in the mail. A special book, Rules for Old Men Waiting, a debut novel 23 years in the making, sent from a bygone friend. This friend is an elegant and erudite fellow from the old school. Someone who has illumined my life with intelligence and manners. I haven’t heard from him in awhile. The note with it said, “I just finished this book and thought of you throughout. I found it be richly told, wonderfully crafted and lovingly profound. That’s you.” Maximized in 140 characters.

I’m reading it now. And when I finish it, I’m going to return the favor to someone who has made it this far, on white-knuckles and knees, to the precipice of this post. I’m going to share the wisdom I’ve been given, the gift of true friendship, a living connection, with one of you. Because that alone is what keeps the world sane.

Leave a comment and take your prize. It is bittersweet fulfillment to know this chance won’t come again, and to let it go.

Update: The book has gone to Kelly, who has a short time left in a long wait.


  1. Well, you know, my last free book from you did turn out pretty well… πŸ˜‰

    Comment by Mary (MPJ) — March 15, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

  2. Sighhhh… not posting for the book, although it sounds good, but just a thanks for writing all of this down. It is all quite exhausting but this is the world around us so it can be easy to lose perspective.

    Comment by Mambinki — March 15, 2009 @ 7:06 pm

  3. On hands and knees, making real love, bittersweet as ever, climbing our corner of the mountain. How not to go insane? Yes, I wonder this everyday. How am I going to stay grounded in what is real around me and not swept away in the vast rough ocean of news? You dream speaks to me.

    And by the way, that “OMing” bit gave me a chuckle this morning!

    Comment by jena strong — March 15, 2009 @ 7:07 pm

  4. Here I sit half way through a new book that will likely be finished at the end of this rainy day. I will be left searching for something new to wrap my brain around. Otherwise, without escape, I might take the easy path and declare myself insane (which, as far as I know, has not yet occurred … at least not officially. It is possible, however, they are standing on the other side of the door, straight jacket in hand, ready to whisk me away).

    Sometimes I wonder … what did I do in a past life to deserve this. Or rather what didn’t I do?

    Perhaps I can come around again as a simple creature, a worm or a sprout, with nothing to do but follow the sun.

    Comment by Shalet — March 15, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

  5. Just want you to know, friends, that the depth and the purity of your responses leaves me reeling. My BFFs are all A-list. And Mary, you have already established that you are very good at waiting.

    Everyone, follow her lead. It’s worth it, I promise.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — March 15, 2009 @ 7:23 pm

  6. Two confessions. First, I eat far too many of the snack crackers you used to illustrate your post. I keep them in my car for “emergencies,” which means I eat them while commuting between NH and MA, or when driving to the grocery store (so I don’t shop on an empty stomach), or when rushing to an all-day retreat where lunch is served at the end.

    (This last point means that my Zen practice is largely fueled by artificially colored, artificially preserved, non-eco-friendly individually wrapped snack cracker packets, eaten while I drive. So I have absolutely nothing to say about not going insane.)

    Second confession: I recently joined Twitter. I don’t do frequent “Tweets”: just once or twice a day, as a kind of “micro-post.” I was inspired to try Twitter by poet friends who use it to post micro-poems: a kind of high-tech haiku. I can’t say I’ve mastered the art of Twitter poetry, but I like the idea of using this super-hyper medium in a slow and careful, subversive way. There’s nothing inherent in the “less than 140 characters” medium that says you HAVE to do it obsessively, if you have a poet’s soul.

    Comment by Lorianne — March 15, 2009 @ 11:04 pm

  7. Perfect Lorianne. In one way or another, practice is always fueled by our non-nutritive habits.

    I’ve just finished the book, by the way. It is poetry.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — March 16, 2009 @ 12:02 am

  8. i just started what i thought was a boring old novel (been on my to read shelf for about 10 years) and it is so so funny and up to the moment for having been written in 1500s. lots of worry about salaries and positions and what not .

    i also have eaten some vile foods rushing to sit with other people. and i’d love to win a book πŸ™‚


    ps i still am trying to master facebook status haiku, i am not ready for the next fad.

    Comment by Chris Austin-Lane — March 16, 2009 @ 12:51 am

  9. We are well beyond “fair trade” considering the amount of your wise prose I look forward to soaking up on hopefully unending basis!

    Comment by Kathleen Botsford — March 16, 2009 @ 2:09 am

  10. Sounds like just the book for the journey I’m on right now with my mom.

    And if I’m chosen, I’ll send a book to you!

    Comment by Kelly Hudgins — March 16, 2009 @ 2:11 am

  11. I get e-mail updates from your site whenever you post anything new. While reading the e-mail from my phone doesn’t give me the full depth of what you’re conveying because I can’t click on all the lovely links, I always look forward to coming home and discovering the hidden messages planted within. πŸ™‚

    The posts regarding your daughter’s candid interpretations of life are my favorite. I so look forward to becoming a mother yet as I get older (and as a recently married woman) closer to that end, the more terrified I become at the magnatude of importance that position holds.

    When I found your website I knew that I needed to read Momma Zen. The feedback has been wonderful regarding it and I find comfort in your outlook on life.

    I look forward to learning more about you, and in the process, myself.

    Comment by heeds — March 16, 2009 @ 3:45 am

  12. No fear, Heeds. It is a far easier job than our worries make it to be. The children never grasp why we parents make such a big stink about it.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — March 16, 2009 @ 4:01 am

  13. Wouldn’t it be cool if (taking a cue from Kelly) we could ALL win the book? As in read it, then pass it on πŸ˜‰
    sounds kinda fun, yes?

    Comment by Ash — March 16, 2009 @ 4:36 am

  14. my child dreams in such simplicity still. whales, kittens, dolphins, birds..
    mine too are white knuckled more then not and i long to remember while i dream, that i can fly.

    Comment by crystine — March 16, 2009 @ 9:54 am

  15. the blog may be dead, but please dont stop blogging! your blog is a breath of fresh air, a place where i feel like i CAN breathe. thank you for putting your energy into it. i hope to see you on a retreat this year.
    -jill in SLO

    Comment by Anonymous — March 16, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

  16. Jill,
    I hope to see you to! My first one-day hosted retreat, called Mother’s Plunge, will be here in my hometown of Sierra Madre on Saturday, June 20. Just firming up details now. Watch this space and come on down!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — March 16, 2009 @ 2:16 pm

  17. The internet served as a community for me when i was bed-ridden for several months. I have found, as I am healing, my heart calls to where I am most happy, in the garden. I am so thankful for the physical ability to be in the garden, working the earth. I remember what is true for me. All of this Twittering, texting, will go along fine without me. It has so far… I think it is okay for me to prefer sewing, painting and growing.

    Comment by Puanani — March 16, 2009 @ 3:09 pm

  18. Feeling fragile and broken, though I’m supposedly repaired.

    Sanity might be overrated.

    Please put me in for the book!

    Comment by kathryn — March 16, 2009 @ 3:12 pm

  19. I was wondering if you’d comment on the “One Taste” retreat center and their shenanegans πŸ™‚

    I’m sorry you’ve been sick, Karen, and I’m grateful that you are blogging even while feeling icky.

    And the dream, oh the dream! I have more “must pack everything in an inadequate container while hurrying and falling farther behind” dreams than you can shake a stick at. They’re horrid.

    Hope you’re feeling better.

    Comment by Meg — March 16, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

  20. I have a feeling any book you recommend I will like.

    Comment by Cat — March 16, 2009 @ 3:34 pm

  21. My laugh-out-loud moment: Am I Going to Be Dead before I Twitter? (You may want to read last week’s Doonesbury strips, if you haven’t already.)

    Thank you for sharing your dream. It speaks to my life, too.

    Comment by Judy Merrill-Smith — March 16, 2009 @ 6:12 pm

  22. Books are where calm lives,
    a gift of calm is sacred,
    A gift in giving.


    Comment by hahamommy — March 16, 2009 @ 8:57 pm

  23. Hi Karen, I hope you are feeling better after the flu. Ironically, I was just about to write about how I have decided that I just CAN’T do Twitter. Have no desire to, actually. Facebook is as micro-blog as I’ll go. I am feeling more grounded today, thanks for the telephone 1.0 chat, and you’ll hear more from me, soon.

    Comment by MojoMom — March 16, 2009 @ 9:32 pm

  24. The spitting, coughing and choking you hear is me surfacing after being overtaken with the latest wave. As I bob here I wonder, I feel the energy of the wave and wonder some more. To be denied the wave feels stagnant, devoid of change, but do I have to drown in the name of change?

    I do wonder what I claim that can only be shed with the violence of a big wave? I see my own self directed nature and my reluctance to converse with myself honestly reflected back at me in Tweets and Facebook status updates. That part feels less like a wave and more like being stuck in the kiddie pool of conversation and connection.

    What am I to do in the wave while I wait to drown or be deposited safely on shore? Surfers are the only ones to revel in the big, dangerous waves. Why don’t I surf?

    Comment by Joan — March 16, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  25. Joan, I’m not speaking of the latest wave. I’m speaking of the Big Kahuna. I’m speaking of this wave, as in this koan, this fire, when all wondering ceases, as does the wondering self:

    Hekiganroku – Case 29: Daizui and the “Kalpa Fire”

    A monk asked Daizui, “When the great kalpa fire is inflamed, the whole universe will be destroyed. I wonder if ‘that’ will also be destroyed or not.” Daizui said, “Destroyed.” The monk said,”If so, will ‘that’ be gone with the other?”

    Daizui said, “Gone with the other.”

    None of us will be denied this wave, and only a few will surf it. Let it be you.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — March 16, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

  26. I like to read.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — March 16, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

  27. Isn’t life the grandest of koans?

    Comment by Anna — March 17, 2009 @ 2:05 am

  28. The one and only.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — March 17, 2009 @ 2:14 am

  29. I .. uh … hi. Um … I got one of those chain mail blog awards and I am passing it on to you. I really do love your blog.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — March 17, 2009 @ 7:08 pm

  30. A living connection is indeed what keeps the world sane. In a world twisted with concern and distrust, nurturing those living connections might just provide the healing we need. Thank you for the inspiration, Karen.

    Comment by Sharon Delman — March 17, 2009 @ 7:21 pm

  31. This is my first visit to your blog. I feel as if I know you already!
    Nothing cheers me as much as hearing from old friends. But sometimes it’s bittersweet. Yearning for the past sometimes makes it difficult to live in the present.

    Comment by MJ — March 17, 2009 @ 11:02 pm

  32. I like Ash’s suggestion of reading the book and then passing it on. πŸ™‚ I’d happily participate in that as I already tend to take notes when reading books of importance to my life.

    Comment by heeds — March 26, 2009 @ 11:52 pm

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