Z is for Zen and the Art of Writing

Z“Find a piece of heavy white paper that is the exact size of a book you admire, and cut some circles in it. Make the circles different sizes, some large, some small. Place the white paper over a page of the book. Some of the words will show through the holes. Write these words down. Repeat on another page, and another, until your poem is finished.” Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #5 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016)

My variation of RO’s instructions:  I gathered up six books on zen from the library, listed here in alphabetical order by author–because aren’t authors the most important element of a bibliographic citation? Zen in your Garden by Jenny Handy; The Accidental Buddhist by Dinty W. Moore; Zen Socks by Jon J. Muth; Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig; Zen Doodle Unleashed by Tiffany Lovering; and Zen Dog by Toni Tucker and Judith Adler.

Then I cut a series of circles as directed, but opted to take only one small elongated oval so that I had enough width to extract partial sentences from random pages to make a poem. Though there are several several lines from each book, none are from the same pages. I placed Dinty Moore’s phrase “the quibbling Money” in the middle of Toni Tucker’s sentence from Zen Dog  which begins with “Where we sit” and ends with “The quibbling monkey.”

I decided to participate in the A-Z Blog Challenge because my friend Pam Helberg https://pamelahelberg.com/ said “You should do this!” We were leaving two days later for the AWP (Association for Writers and Writers Programs) Conference in Los Angeles. I was reluctant because I had a website without content, I was ignorant of WordPress technique, and I was going to be traveling for much of the month. Pam, whom I have dubbed PG, Practical Genius, worked in technology for fifteen years, and continues as a freelancer, said she’d help me. And she has–for many hours.

Using Ruth Ozeki’s prompts was a last minute decision too. Ozeki, whom I’ve heard speak a half dozen times, is an author and Zen Priest. Using Zen, a faith that fascinates this mainstream Methodist, is a fitting conclusion for twenty-six days of blogging. I’d planned all along to use Ray Bradbury’s wonderful book,  Zen and the Art of Writing, but…I didn’t pack it in my suitcase and it wasn’t in the local library, so my Zen explorations included doodling, dogs, children’s literature, motorcycle maintenance, accidental conversions, and gardening, which may go to prove the assertion in the poem title, or that applications of Zen are limitless. Thanks for reading along with me.

You Can’t Define Zen

You can’t define Zen any more than

Rich air and strange perfumes from the flower

I’m walking backward in front of them

You may not use all the tools at one time.

Some spheres have a purity of form

Kindness works. Generosity.

Not every time, but always.

Now on the horizon I see something else

Where we

(the quibbling monkeys)

can learn to finally sit.

P.S. I’m happy to provide the source and page number of each of these lines, but who would want them except a bibliographic nerd?

Y is an Apology to an Anonymous You

Y“While you are in the library, write a sincere note of apology to someone, addressing the person as “you” without giving a name. Fold it up and leave the note inside a library book. Put the book on the shelf.” Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #9 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016).

I wouldn’t want anyone chasing after the note I enclosed in one of the depicted books, so I’m not identifying the library, although someone might be able to recognize this library by its bookmobile.

image image imageIt was hard to write an apology to an individual I don’t know for the reasons cited below, but I suppose most of us have experienced harshnesses put upon us by others. I also suppose that we have been unkind to others thereby necessitating an apology and creating memories that stick with us all too long.

I have written before about a sixth grade experience during which a bunch of other girls and I chided (well, actually bullied) a girl whose initials were F.A.T. School personnel required us to apologize, and we did, but the abject shame has stuck with me for several decades. When I saw her at a high school reunion six years ago, I referenced it, including another apology. A friendly, accomplished woman, she said, “I don’t remember.”

May all those we harm be so gracious; may we strive never to be hurtful. Here’s my  note of understanding. I can’t quite call it an apology.

imageHi!  To keep my writing life stimulating and fun, I am participating in the 2016 A-Z Challenge which you can find out about by going to http://www.a-to-zchallenge.com/p/what-is-blogging-from-to-z.html. I have combined the daily alphabet prompts with 20 other prompts written by Ruth Ozeki, the best selling author of A Tale for the Time Being, etc.

[I site the title of the blog and Ozeki’s prompt in the letter, but won’t reproduce it here]

The thing is, how do I write a note of apology to someone I don’t know, against whom I have perpetrated no ugly deed necessitating confession, a request for forgiveness, or the expression of regret or remorse. Well, maybe I should apologize to this book for making a lump in its pages.

Anyway, if you have been wounded, know that the writer of this note extends sympathy and sadness and wishes that s/he who “done you wrong” finds the inner bravery to apologize. In the meantime, use this $5 bill for yourself or someone else.

 I hope your life is happy.

Xcellent, AleX

X“As you are walking toward the next intersection if you see a person who is wearing something red, stop flipping your coin and follow that person instead. Follow the person wearing red until you see a person with long brown hair until you see a man in a pinstriped suit. When you see a man in a pinstriped suit, return to flipping your coin.” Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #3 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016

imageGUEST BLOG BY ALEX LAMBRIES: Alex Lambries, 17, is a junior at Park City (Utah) High School. She loves skiing, hiking, biking and cooking. Her high school team took first place in a regional culinary competition. She is a loving and competent big sister to Gabrielle, 15, Elizabeth, 12, and Nicholas, 9.

We walk into the mall and I flip a coin, which directs us to the Pretzel Shop where I buy a cinnamon and sugar pretzel. I see a Polynesian guy with luscious black hair and blue eyes. He’s wearing a red plaid shirt. I turn to my grandmother and say, “Didn’t you know that Polys wear plaid shirts all the time? They rock.”

I watch him buy lemonade and a peanut butter and a jelly pretzel (eeeww) which is almost enough to deter me from pursuit, but those blue eyes drive me on. He strides over to Granny’s Book Nook and looks over his shoulder. Why? Is he in the Fifty Shades of Grey section? He slides a shiny volume onto the counter and pays for it.

I can’t hang around to see what he buys because I have to follow the prompt and I’ve seen someone with long brown hair: Chewbacca. I must follow him, but not before he glances at me and give him a wink. IChewy goes to the Oakley Kiosk, browses thick Coke bottle lenses with pink frames, puts them on, and presses a bell.

A secret trap door opens in the floor and he disappears. I drop down into the rectangular pit of mystery and doom. The corridors are lit by smoldering torches. I try to follow the friendly hairy beast, but I only see cages of flamingoes. Now I am on a platform which undulates and begins to rise until I am in the center of a circus tent.

I see a guy with luscious black hair and blue eyes, a red plaid shirt open at the chest under a pinstriped suit. He is reading to children who are waiting for the circus to begin. They are sitting in Chewbacca’s lap listening to Red Shirt read Horton Hears a Who. He looks my way and winks.

I decide to sit right here and not flip another coin.



W is for (Dog) Walking

W“Go to a large city with a coin in your pocket. Start walking. When you reach an intersection, take the coin from your pocket and flip it. If it’s heads, go right. If it’s tails, go left. Repeat.” Ruth Ozeki’s Prompt #1 in the Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016)

I am in Park City, which may have City in its name, but PC (pop: 7962) is not a large urban area. Thirty-two miles from Salt Lake, the town is known for accessible ski areas, the 2002 Winter Olympics, the annual Sundance film festival, great mountain bike trails, oh, and as the latest dwelling place for my son Jules and his family.

So, since it snowed this morning and I was loath to take my wimpy rental car out of the driveway, the place for a coin-flipping adventure was right here in the neighborhood, namely the Jeremy Ranch section of Park City.

Bella, the family Labradoodle checked out the weather and decided to spend a cozy morning in front of the fireplace, but when his little buddy Nicholas came home from school and was anxious for an on-leash (I’m sure he thought unleashed) adventure, he was ready to move, but impatient at every coin flip.

No coin flip here because we’re heading to the dog park. Anyway, Bella flips her own coins to conquer bolders, run, and take a break in somebody else’s garden.

Nicholas said, “What is this? did somebody die here?”image

Nicholas pauses to look at a worm. “Boy, that’s a long one.” Another coin flip: Tails! We go left and there’s Tony. “He’s old,” says Nick. “He’s nine.”

Finally the dog park. But we have to watch out for bears, coyotes, cougars, elk, moose, deer, and…image

…a dog with a mind of her own.

Nicholas wants to swing, but I say no. Hey, it’s 48 degrees and the swing goes out over the water.

Time for another coin flip. Fortunately, it’s heads, which means Southridge will connect to home on Sunrise Drive, the street where Nicholas, Bella, Alexandra, Elizabeth, Gabrielle, and their traveling parents, Jules and Sara, live. And me too, for a couple more happy days.image.jpeg



U is for Undoing Unhappiness

U“As you are walking in the city towards the next intersection, smile at everyone you happen to make eye contact with. Award yourself a point for every smile that is returned. The winner is the one with the most smiles.”  Prompt #14 in Ruth Ozeki’s Preface to Choices (Borderline Press, 2016)

I am amused that several readers asked “What happened to the “U” blog?”

I could say, if U knew me, U’d know that Flexible instead of Quinby, is my middle name. I punt when I don’t have recipe ingredients. I consider a schedule just a guideline—an insight supplied by my wife in a poem she (lovingly) read at our commitment ceremony 18 years ago.

As for the “U” blog, I shifted the responsibility to my grandchildren. Since their schedules didn’t match up with the progression of the alphabet prompts, I wrote U on V day and V on U day. Never mind that I’m posting on W day.

After seeing Zootopia, the contest began. Alexandra (17), Elizabeth (12) and Nicholas (9) counted the smiles they received on the way to and in the venues to which we were walking—The Habit Burger Grill and Nordstrom’s in the Sugar Loaf area of Salt Lake City. I told them to keep exact track of SIRs (Smiles In Return) and to remember as much as they could about what happened. Then we’d talk.

Nicholas (15 SIRs, 19 no smile backs) edged out Elizabeth (9 SIRs, 6 no smile backs),  as the winner and the one who tried the hardest. Alex (8 SIRs) concentrated on buying shoes for her upcoming prom (an understandable decision for a teenager) and likely prompted by the experience illustrated in this exchange. My first question to her was, “Were the smiles different?”

“It’s crazy,” she said, “how many facial expressions you can get by smiling. I got a sarcastic smile at Nordstrom’s. I started to sit down and this lady, half-smiling, said, “You’re in my spot.” Then, when I was looking at Converse Unisex shoes, a guy said, ‘You’re in the men’s section.’ I said ‘I know.’ And then he gave a raised-eyebrow-Really? smile. At the restaurant I asked the guy behind the counter where the restrooms were. “There’s a sign right there,” he said pointing, as if I was a total dummy.

And that’s when she said, “Okay, Gramma, I’m done with this smiling thing.”

Elizabeth kept up with the “smiling thing.” Here’s a bit of our conversation.

Elizabeth: There was this couple. They both smiled back. The girl was kinda Gothic, wearing a purple shirt, black pants. She had long black hair. The guy was wearing a black shirt with nude pants.

Me: Elizabeth, what do you mean by nude pants?

Elizabeth, with her very own quizzical-what-don’t-you-understand-smile. You know, the color, nude.

Me: You mean flesh-colored or beige?

Elizabeth, shrugged, but maintained her stance: I just call it nude.”

Elizabeth’s overall observation—sophisticated for a 12-year-old I thought: “I think most people don’t want to be rude so they smile back. It’s in their DNA. Seems natural for them to do it. But there were a lot who didn’t smile at all. Some people just kept walking.”

There was no daunting Nicholas’ enthusiasm. When Alex asked him to hold a box of shoes for her, he said. “Can’t, Alex, I’m losing time.”

He ran down the Nordstrom’s aisle to my outpost at Men’s Shorts: “Gramma, do babies count?” “Of course.” I said. Later, as we were in the car, he asked, “How bout waving and smiling?” I hated to disappoint him, but the contest was over and he had already demonstrated his ability to engage with people and to observe them closely. Later in the evening, he recited his experiences and I typed up his words:

  • This guy had brown hair, glasses, brown or blue eyes, plaid shirt blue, jeans, brown shoes and swipe badge. He had an ear bud in one ear. He had a dutiful smile.
  • That Little baby had little squeezy lips, no hair, blue eyes, pale skin, was in a little carrier, had footie jammies. His smile was like a fish’s.
  • There was an old lady with a red-orange mushroom cut. Freckles, long eyelashes, wearing scrubs. Her smile was square with lots of teeth showing. She looked a little constipated. Her face was orange.
  • A black guy smiled. I heard him talking in a different language. He had on jeans and a t-shirt.
  • Two guys were talking. One was kinda chill. He had on a black beanie. His smile was with a raised hand, “What’s up dude?” He had teeny, teeny freckles and arm pit hair and tattoo on his arm—it was a circle.
  • “I stared at people but they didn’t stare back. If I said Hi, then they said Hi.”
  • People don’t pay attention to kids.

Nicolas, I think they paid attention to you and I know one person you–and your sisters–made happy: me.

V is for Ver-Vert

VWhen I was looking for early usages of “septuagenarian” for my “S” blog, I found a favorite in Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gresset’s 1793 poem Ver-Vert. 

Ver-Vert is an irreverent, witty narrative about a pious parrot who lives in a convent. While he travels by ship to another convent, he’s exposed to bawdy language. “The boatmen all in chorus swore/Oaths never heard by him before And sad and glum, Ver-Vert sat still/In silence, though against his will.” At the new convent he’s assigned a new caretaker: “A sulky, sour septuagenarian maid is made the keeper of the Renegade.”

The attribution of unpleasant characteristics (sour and sulky) to seventy-year olds, reinforce exactly what I, a card carrying septuagenarian for three years, don’t want to be. Insert smiley face here.

Ver-Vert quickly established his reputation, particularly among Parisian literati who were surprised that such wit could come from within the Catholic Church. Gresset was brought up by Jesuits. His churchly superiors were unhappy with his work, but he continued to write light verse, as well as candid accounts of life in a Jesuit College which led to his expulsion from the order because he was impious! Unclerical! Frivolous! Absurd!

Gresset began to write plays. EdouardIII (1740) was the first French play to include the enactment of a murder on stage. One play The Sorry Man was an expose of salon life.

The “S” quote mentioned above came from the Oxford English Dictionary, with A. Geddes credited as the translator. I couldn’t find that translation online, so I used Bartleby.com’s excerpt from The World’s Wit and Humor (1906). The translator has rewritten the words differently: “The oldest, ugliest, sourest nun/an ape in veils, a skeleton, bent double with her 80 years; She’d moved the hardest sinner’s tears.”

Gresset, the writer with three hyphenated first names, died at 68, never achieving septuagenarian status. I’d have never discovered him and his interesting bio had I not dipped into the OED.  Should you want to read the amusing Ver-Vert, a 387-line poem, check it out here.


Additional Resource: Britannica