The following story by Frances Howard-Snyder was the 1st Place winner of the Becoming Writer Story Contest. Frances Howard-Snyder teaches philosophy at Western Washington University in Bellingham, …
“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
(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?