Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Was T.S. Eliot Inspired by "Invasion of the Body Snatchers"?

Feeling the blogging itch; but after my retreat at Insight Meditation Society, I am so backed up with W*o*R*k! there's little time to post.

Here's what I got:

This quotation from T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets ("Burnt Norton" section V) feels like it was scooped from the air in the IMS meditation hall:  

Words move, music moves
Only in time: but that which is only living
Can only die.  Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.

On a practical level, this translates into an interesting observation: When people do walking meditation very slowly, they look like the zombified actors in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  It was a little distracting at first.  Of course, rather than being taken over by aliens, my fellow meditators were becoming more fully themselves.
This lady is either close to Nirvana or she's in big trouble.

Friday, February 17, 2012

On Generosity in Self-Promotion


On an Internet forum, I ran across a serious discussion by blogger/writers about using search engines and key words to identify HoT! cUrReNT! topics so they can write about them and get lots of readers/sales/recognition/money.   Whatever.

What happened to,um, having something to say?  But I admit I feel the impulse.This modern-post-modern-rationalist-whatever publishing environment can feel like a popularity contest.

http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/an-art-exhibit-thats-good-to-the-last-drop/ More on artist Gwyneth Leech next time!
I think the key to being noticed has to be generosity.  Generosity and being a savvy marketer.  "The main point," says Pema Chodron, "isn't so much what we give, but that we unlock our habit of clinging."  A poet I know insisted so often that "Editors don't want me. No one's interested in what I have to say," that he talked himself into not writing.  He clung to his pride, but at a cost to himself. 

Generosity means reaching out: Thanking anyone who praises your work, however insincere you might think they are; sending the email; writing the note; evaluating someone else's work; learning to navigate social media if you feel pulled in that direction; being content with small gains. Writing to people whose work you admire...  

Etc.  What have I missed? How does generosity work for you?

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Is "Happy Writer" an Oxymoron?

If I ain't happy now, I'm not going to be happy when I'm "successful."  Because apparently, being a successful writer is a formula for misery.

In a recent Huffington Post blog, Lev Raphael describes "a contemporary writer whose first novel was reviewed on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. It was subsequently on the NYT best seller list, and sold 500,000 copies. That's the kind of exposure, notoriety, and sales record most writers would kill for...This author... turned out to be very unhappy. Why? He hadn't gotten a Pulitzer nomination, and couldn't let go of the disappointment and frustration."

From "Nobody will publish me" to "I can't get nominated for a Pulitzer," writers are...Whiny?

"Illegible." Now that's an unkind cut.
Do Men Have It Better?
Raphael cites Roxane Gay's trenchant observations on Salon  that male authors in fact receive more attention than female authors.  (She points the finger at him, BTW.) Gay also states, "The (gender) disparit(ies)...are significant and worth examining, but we’re talking about such rarified air (when it comes to highly successful authors) that it’s difficult to make broad conclusions."  In other words, most of us barely make the auditions, let alone being sent to Hollywood for the real competition. 

I'm Not Asking for Much...Just a Billboard on Times Square
As Gay says, "All we (writers) want is everything."  No gender distinction there.

Perhaps it's a blessing to be as little known as I am.  In order to KEEP GOING and get the work done, I can't afford to indulge in jealousy & toxic mental comparisons--and I need to deeply treasure every gift of affirmation a reader gives me. (Thank you! You know who you are!)

What is Success?
So how do I see myself in the illustrious glow of our unnamed friend in the first paragraph who has not only attained critical acclaim, but untold riches (and who probably lives in a really cool apartment with a sub-zero fridge from which emerge the artisan cheeses he serves at the fabulous parties he throws for other fabulous authors I wouldn't dare 'friend' on Facebook)?  After all, I'm writing and publishing; and some people actually really like my stuff.

And how do you see yourself in the light of other people's success (or lack thereof)?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Jess Row, of Best American Short Stories, 2011: On Spirituality and Writing

Recently I had the privilege of conducting an email interview with Jess Row, whose story "The Call of Blood" is in Best American Short Stories, 2011.

What is your religious background, if any, and what led you to Zen practice?
I was raised a Unitarian Universalist. My parents were brought up more or less as Presbyterians, though more in the cultural sense than in the sense of regular churchgoing. It was a mostly secular and liberal household with strong Calvinistic undertones. I started practicing Zen when I was in college and searching for a tradition that made sense to me on my own terms. I was suffering a lot at the time, emotionally, and the Buddhist focus on the nature of suffering spoke to me. And I loved a silent practice that anyone could do. Unitarianism, as most people know, is an extremely talky religion...and also very much wedded to a certain cultural and socioeconomic milieu, outside of which it makes no sense at all. I was looking to escape that milieu, and so I found Zen practice. Of course, that process of "escape" is very questionable and also self-defeating, as I discovered later, but at the time it was the only trajectory I had.
Do you consider writing a spiritual practice? 
 Not exactly. I find my writing complementary to my religious life in some ways, but I don't feel that there's anything inherently religious about writing—to the contrary, in fact. I do think that Zen practice and Buddhism in general offers me a great deal of helpful insight into how to deal with the uncertainties of my writing life, but those insights are available for any vocation. 

 Does your meditation practice inform your writing practice...and vice versa?