travels...so far

It’s been ages since I last posted, and I feel I should apologize, but to whom? To my weblog? To the Internet, for dropping out of touch? To readers, of course, but if you visit this site, you already know I don’t post often, so you have blessedly low expectations, and I’m grateful for that!

But I do feel the need to write about what’s been going on. It’s been an extraordinarily busy, exciting, inspiring, and busy 2015, so far. In February, I’ve traveled from Cortes Island, to Vancouver, to Texas, to Washington D.C., to  Michigan, to California, to Portland, and finally to Berlin. I’ve experienced just about every season and weather condition (which made packing a real challenge) and met so many wonderful people.

I started in Dallas, Texas where I spoke at the 34th Annual First-Year Experience Conference Author Dinner along with three incredibly talented writers: Richard Blanco, Emily St. John Mandel, and Alice Goffman. Here’s a  video of my talk. It was sweet to hear the silencing of forks as Nao and Old Jiko took the stage.

After Dallas, I flew to Washington, DC for the 2015 PEN/Faulkner Foundation Reading Series. The weather was so warm and perfect when I arrived that I rented a bike and headed to the Monument to take a few obligatory selfies (is a shadow a self?). 

In DC, I was invited to visit Megan Besler’s AP Literature class at Columbia Heights Education Campus-Bell Multicultural High School, as part of PEN/Faulkner’s Writers in the School program. The students were wonderful--so smart, engaged, and talented. One of the students, TaQiya Stroman, wrote me this beautiful poem and read it aloud in class.

  Exit Ticket: Ode to Ozeki The moment my eyes step within the pages/ my body was washed away/ By a beatific wave/ So spectacular were the words/ that shot through my heart/ like giant arrows./ O, ode to Ozeki/ who wrote the tale of two worlds/ who stretched and beautified/ the meaning of time/ whose words manifested/ a new meaning to life.

 

Exit Ticket: Ode to Ozeki

The moment my eyes step within the pages/ my body was washed away/ By a beatific wave/ So spectacular were the words/ that shot through my heart/ like giant arrows./ O, ode to Ozeki/ who wrote the tale of two worlds/ who stretched and beautified/ the meaning of time/ whose words manifested/ a new meaning to life.

No one has ever written a poem to me before, never mind an ode, so I felt deeply honored. Thank you, TaQiya!

The PEN/Faulkner event, entitled The Imaginary Real, was a reading and conversation with Claire Vaye Watkins, moderated by Nate Brown and held at the magnificent Folger Shakespeare Library. Nate is the most charming and wonderful interlocutor you can imagine, and Claire is, frankly, amazing—funny, brilliant, profound, and a stunningly beautiful writer. If you haven’t read her collection of short stories, Battleborn, you must, immediately. It will blow you away. We had such a fun evening, and there’s even a podcast, which you can find at the link, above. And at the end of the evening, the artist Devin Symons, gave me this sketch. Nice! He made one of Claire, too, which unfortunately I didn’t think to photograph.

The next stop on the map was Ann Arbor, Michigan--not exactly bike-riding weather, but still beautiful. I spent just one day there but was able to visit the fascinating Ann Arbor library (where, in addition to books, you can borrow things like telescopes and toasters and ironing boards and skis and even spinning wheels!). I did an interview for the Ann Arbor District Library podcast, and in the evening took part in their vital community reading program, Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads, where A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING was this year’s selection. Here are some pictures from the wonderful event!

And then, in a snap of the finger (65 moments according to Zen Master Dōgen), I was on a plane to California to spend Valentine’s Day with my beloved friends Karen Joy Fowler, Molly Friedrich & her son, Nando, and Lucy Carson, Molly's daughter and heir apparent. Naturally we celebrated with trip to the beach and a round (or two or three or ten) of pirate-themed miniature golf on the boardwalk.

On Valentine’s evening, I made my way over to the Make-Out Room (!) for Charlie Jane Anders’  wild event: Writers with Drinks. Charlie is an impresario like no other, and she had everyone doubled over with her infamous and indescribably hilarious introductions of the all readers, including Kate Willett, Rose Caraway, Nayomi Munaweera, Eve Rickert and David Koehn. It was an unforgettable evening.

After California, I flew to Oregon to spend a week as the first Writer in Residence at Portland Literary Arts. Last year, when I first got the email last year from Andrew Proctor, the executive director, inviting me to come, I was like, Whoa, awesome! Writer in residence in Portland! This should be a good gig, pretty chill, laid back. I mean, it's Portland, right? I can hang out in the Literary Arts Suite at the Heathman Hotel and write a little, maybe watch some TV, get caught up on reading...

Uh...wrong. They kept me very busy, and wonderfully so. My residency was part of the 30th anniversary celebration of Literary Arts, which is truly extraordinary, one of the finest and most vibrant civic literary organizations in the country. They run the thriving Writers in the Schools program, as well as the Portland Arts and Lectures series, the Oregon Book Awards and Fellowships, and do a variety of other seminars and programs devoted to supporting readers, writers, students, and books.

While I was there, I visited six classes at Grant High School, where I talked with students in the Japanese immersion program, and in Dr. Dreyer's excellent Film and Literature classes. I taught two adult master classes in fiction, and another class in meditation and writing. I read manuscripts and gave interviews, including one for this article about Zen by AP reporter Terrence Petty. The week concluded with a lecture at the magnificent Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, for some 2700 members of the large and thriving Portland literary community. We ended with a short meditation, and it was wonderful to feel the silence and stillness in the room. The talk will be broadcast on Oregon Public Radio on April 22nd and will be on their website, too. And after this wonderfully busy week, I see now that my assumptions were very wrong, and this whole image of Portland as a laid back, slacker town is just a cleverly constructed façade! 

After Portland, I met Oliver in Vancouver and we flew to Berlin for a real holiday, the first real holiday we've ever had, with no work commitments whatsoever, just long unstructured days of writing, reading, and walking, walking, walking. So much to see, so much to do, so much to take in. I’ve spent the mornings working on a long essay called Time Code of a Face, which will be part of a series of essays, The Face, published by the very cool Brooklyn-based digital publisher, Restless Books. I think Time Code of a Face can be preordered here. It's been wonderful to have time to write again!

Oliver, amidst faces, at the Berlin Museum for Film & Television 

Oliver, amidst faces, at the Berlin Museum for Film & Television 

Now we’re heading back to New York and into April, where I’ll be starting another round of travel, mostly to universities and libraries this time, with stops at Swarthmore, Wesleyan, Yale, The Aspen Institute, Deschutes Library in Bend Oregon, Longwood, and Princeton. You can find more information about these events here.  And I’ll also be teaching a writing and meditation class at Brooklyn Zen Center, which should be a lot of fun. So, if you happen to be in any of these places, please come say hi. I hope to see you down the road...!