Archive for April, 2011

Progress Report #61

April 29, 2011

Today I finished reading and taking notes on the first two drafts of Street Song. I had to go though around 1300 pages. I’ll take the weekend off and then start working on the outline for the final draft. It’s the sort of task that I love, and I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time. My intention is to create a detailed outline to guide me through the final version of the manuscript. I’ll need to create another outline for any potential publisher. The version I’m starting Monday is much more detailed than what publishers want to see. And, as I’ve said before, I still need to finish the second draft (it’s close to being finished). But once I’m done with this, I’ll know precisely what to write about in its last sections.

There are two questions that I hear often: Do I have a contract for this book? Do I have an agent? No, I don’t have a contract. It’s still too early in the process. (My guess is that I’ll be able to start looking for one in about six months. At that point, I’ll still have another year and a half of writing ahead of me.) And, yes, I do have an agent.

The Difficulties of the Zen Waterfall

April 25, 2011

I still get e-mail—almost every day—from people who have just discovered the parrot movie. The movie has “legs,” and it’s gratifying that it continues to touch people. Those who write often want to ask about or comment on the part of the film that Judy and I call the “Zen waterfall sequence.” That’s where I talk about the death of Tupelo and how her death helped me to come to terms with some ideas that, up to that point, I hadn’t understood very well. I say:

There’s a story that Suzuki Roshi told. He was the Zen master at the Zen Center here in San Francisco. He went to Yosemite and saw a big waterfall coming over a cliff. It’s one river at the top of the cliff, but as it falls, the river breaks up into all these individual droplets. And then it hits the bottom of the cliff, and it’s one river again. We’re all one river ‘till we hit this cliff. That distance between the top of the cliff and the bottom of the cliff is our life. And all the individual little droplets think they really are individual little droplets until they hit the bottom, and then they’re gone. But that droplet doesn’t lose anything. It gains. It gains the rest of the river.

This was, for me, the heart of the experience, the heart of what I learned from the parrots. A lot of people find that story very comforting. It makes death seem graceful and easy. But lately I’ve been thinking about another angle to the story that needs to be brought out. It’s actually something that Suzuki Roshi dealt with in his original telling, but that I didn’t go into, namely: While it may be easy for a drop of water to give up its individual existence, it’s much more difficult for a human being.

A graceful death depends on one’s ability to let go gracefully. That’s difficult nowadays. Modern life makes it difficult. We have so many distractions to keep us from an awareness of death. We’re encouraged to put everything we have into this life—work hard, get rich, buy stuff, have fun, be a success. The striving and competitiveness create strong psychological attachments that are extremely difficult to sever. It’s hard to let go easily and gracefully when you’ve invested your entire being into this plane. This is where the terror of death comes from. I think most people tell themselves that there’s no reason to dwell on death, that it’s morbid and fruitless to do so. But it’s important how we die, and the only way we can be actually be unafraid at the time of death is by being prepared for it. And to prepare for it, we need to seek out a different kind of education than the one we get going about our daily lives in this culture, in this time.

A Negative Time

April 19, 2011

Lately, I’ve been unable to write anything here. When I look at the news, I feel nothing but dismay. I’ve had the beginning for dozens of posts. But before I can begin to write, I see another appalling story that blows away the previous idea. Actually, I’d much rather be writing about things that I find beautiful and intriguing. But we live in such a negative time that it’s hard to ignore it. The Republicans and the Tea Party folks are on a tear. Yet, the more they get of what they want, the angrier they become. I’ve been noticing this about the right wing (or whatever you want to call it) ever since the fall of the Soviet Union. It didn’t make them happy at all. They just got crazier. But then, what they want doesn’t bring happiness. Perhaps that’s why they get so angry. When what they think will make them happy doesn’t make them happy, it pisses them off.

Anyway, I’ll get back to posting here soon enough. I’ve been trying to avoid the news the last few days. I’ve mostly been working on the final outline for the book, and it’s going well. It’s an unquestionably strange story. As I work on it—even though I lived it—there are times when I have to shake my head. I’m not the kind of writer who makes stuff up for the sake of a story. Except for some necessary compression, it will all be true.

Progress Report #60

April 13, 2011
My Desk

My Desk

I’m about halfway through a reading of my first and second drafts (around 1200 to 1300 pages of material). It’s a little surprising to me (although it shouldn’t be) that some of the best and freshest material is in that first draft. Small gems imbedded in the dirt. I’ve been taking extensive notes, working by hand with a fountain pen. I’m enjoying being away from the keyboard and monitor. I’m less glassy-eyed at the end of each session.

Once I’ve finished going through the two drafts, I’ll start developing a detailed outline for the third and final draft. I’m looking forward to this. It’s the kind of task that appeals to me. Before beginning the third draft, I’ll have to finish the second draft, but I won’t have the burden of writing anything that wouldn’t go into the final draft. (I was around 80% done with the second draft when I took leave of it.)

Everything is going well. The questions I’ve been having are getting worked out, sometimes in magical ways.

More later.

Some Thoughts on Evil

April 5, 2011

Most people I know are uncomfortable with the word “evil.” More than likely, it’s for the same reason I have some discomfort with it. Evil, like most religious terms, has been in the hands of superstitious and shallow ideologues for so long that the word feels poisonous. But it represents something we have to deal with in our daily lives, and if we refuse to take up the word, to define it, and to use it properly, the ideologues will continue to own it and wield it as they see fit. I’m aware of the Buddhist arguments which say that evil doesn’t really exist. But I believe those arguments are more advanced than our current state of mind. So I will speak here as though it is something “real.”

Whenever something evil happens in a big way—a murder, torture, a rape—we all recognize it as such. It’s at evil’s more subtle levels that the difficulties in recognizing it come about. The one consistent element to evil that I see is egotism. Evil is egotism. There are all kinds of egotisms, some more sinister than others. They’re all delusive, I think. Fundamentalists tend to see evil as “Satan whispering in your ear.” They believe that those who are doing evil know they are doing evil, and they do it because they enjoy being evil. But I don’t think people doing evil necessarily think about it all that much. Doing evil makes you blind. We even have philosophies now which hold that selfishness is a virtue. Around 1978 there was a book published, “Looking Out For Number One.” I was really shocked when I first saw that. It was such a change from the ethos that I’d grown up with. Today, I  see that book and that time as the general starting point to our present age of darkness.

An ego, like a gun, is not evil in and of itself. An ego is simply one’s viewpoint. It’s when the gun goes off that trouble arises. People talk about a person having a “healthy ego,” meaning that the individual gets whatever he wants. Such people are seen as strong. But they’re hard, not strong. There’s a difference. A truly healthy ego does not pursue personal advantage; rather, it makes sure that every situation that he or she is involved in is just. Many people worry that not being an egotist means you let people walk all over you. But to be one who is determined that justice prevails you have to be very strong.

There’s more that I would like to say, and I will. But, as I’ve said before, because of this book I’m writing, it’s difficult to find the time to organize and write long posts. This is intended to define the term a little so that I may use it again in the future. I don’t think it’s a good thing to toss the word around with abandon, and I won’t be doing so. But there are times when it’s the only word that I can think of to describe what’s going on in this country nowadays.