Everyday Zen

Just a follow up note on new EVERYDAYZEN website: we launched the site in April, and since then we've added about 100 of Norman's talks and lectures, so please feel free to stop by and check it out. Here are two of my favorites, about language and poetry:

Language (audio)
Language and Dharma (text)

Norman is a poet, as well as a Zen teacher, and so language is something he returns to again and again. As a writer, too, I'm fascinated with language, thinking about it, thinking in it, trying to see it for what it is, sometimes joyfully, sometimes miserably, failing, always. Language is my living.

EVERYDAYZEN is the virtual home of Zen teacher Norman Fischer, and the Everyday Zen foundation and sangha. In addition to the 500+ dharma talks available for download, there's also a Study Guide and a schedule for events and retreats that Norman leads.

The Art of Losing

I just figured out that I can upload files to this weblog, so here's a link to the PDF of an article called "The Art of Losing: On Writing, Dying, and Mom," that I wrote for Shambhala Sun magazine last month. It's based on a talk I gave at a benefit for the Zen Hospice Project, and some of the bits of it are from this weblog. I really like the way Shambhala Sun did the layout, with such nice photographs of my mom. I don't know if it will look as nice in the PDF version, but you can always buy a back issue of the magazine, too, if you really want to see how cute my mom was.

Why Bother?

I wanted to make sure to link to the article, "Why Bother?" by Michael Pollan in last week's New York Times. The title says it all, and it's required reading if you're feeling a little overwhelmed by the state of the planet. I'm a big fan of Pollan's work. His 1998 article, "Playing God in the Garden" was one of the things that inspired me to write about genetically engineered potatoes in "All Over Creation." I ended up incorporating a description of the article in the novel, where one of the characters, Elliot Rhodes, a PR flack for a biotech company, comes across it, much to his dismay. In 2002, when the manuscript was finished, I felt I had to contact Pollan to let him know that I'd appropriated his factual article into my fictional novel. He was extremely gracious and told me that he had been reading "My Year of Meats" when he was writing his article "Power Steer," about a steer he purchased in order to learn about how modern, industrial steak is produced in America. That made me very happy.

rapprochement...and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

How to re-enter this world of my weblog? So much has happened, so much to talk about, and how do I account for my absence? Well, maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe we just go in and out—of our projects, our journals, our intentions and our resolves. What matters is just that we return, eventually, to today, when I'm excited about a story I read, and I want to share it.

It's about the Sval­bard Glob­al Seed Vault. Today was the official opening of the vault, which is was dug 393 feet inside a sandstone mountain, under the permafrost, on a remote Norwegian island called Spitspergen in the Arctic, about 1,120 km from the North Pole.

Today, during the official opening, the vault was unlocked, and the first box of seeds was placed inside by the Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, and Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize laureate and environmentalist, Wangari Maathai. The box contained varieties of rice seeds from 104 countries.

Nicknamed "The Doomsday Vault," the Svalbard Seed Vault "is designed to store duplicates of seeds from seed collections from around the globe. Many of these collections from developing countries are in developing countries. If seeds are lost, e.g. as a result of natural disasters, war or simply a lack of resources, the seed collections may be reestablished using seeds from Svalbard."

You can see the video of the opening ceremonies, as well as a really great video about the World Cowpea Collection, at the Svalbard Seed Vault website.

War and Remembrance

Here's something for friends in Vancouver. I'm going to be doing a reading with Shaena Lambert, at the Joy Kogawa House this Saturday, November 10, at 3:00 - 5:00. Hmm, I see that the graphics of this poster aren't reproducing very well, so here's the info you'll need:

War and Remembrance

A reading in support of TLC’s writers-in-residence program at Historic Joy Kogawa House

Location: 1450 West 64th Avenue, Vancouver

Date: Saturday, November 10, 3 to 5 p.m.

Cost: Admission by donation.
Space is limited. To ensure a seat, please RSVP to (604) 733-2313.

Ruth Ozeki, the Vancouver Public Library’s One Book, One Vancouver author for 2007 for her novel My Year of Meats, will read her contribution to the new collaborative novel, Click, published by Scholastic to support Amnesty International. Ruth’s story describes the experiences of a Japanese boy living in Tokyo during the American occupation following the Second World War.

Vancouver writer Shaena Lambert will read from her novel, Radiance, which tells the story of a Hiroshima survivor whom a group of antinuclear activists sponsor for plastic surgery in New York in the 1950s. The story pits the ideals of peace at home against the realities of the war experience in Japan.

Special guest appearance by Canadian author and poet, Joy Kogawa.

+ + +

And one more thing...I just figured out that the comments people so kindly send me must be moderated, before they are published on the weblog. When I logged on just now, I discovered there were 17 of them waiting for me, dating back to March. None seemed particularly immoderate, but I clicked the appropriate buttons, and I hope they're up and available now. I want to apologize to all of you who sent them and to thank you for being patient. It was lovely to read them, and I promise I'll try to do better in the future. It's not that I'm inept, exactly, just kind of deeply uninterested in this technology....


It's been a pleasant, though somewhat unconvincing summer—not quite hot or long enough to persuade me that it's time for fall, but then I don't seem to get much say in this matter. Time just passes, whether I like it or not...or perhaps it's me who's doing the passing, and time just is. Being. Hmm. These are wintery thoughts, indeed. Here's a link to a nice article in Publishers Weekly about a new book that I had a small part in, called "Click." It will be published in October this year, by Arthur Levine's imprint at Scholastic. It's a collaborative novel, written by ten authors, of whom I am one, and it's a benefit project for Amnesty International.

The idea was that one author would kick things off by writing a chapter, and then that chapter would be passed it along to the next author on the list, and from there the chapters would accrue and the book would grow. We were told we could take as our inspiration any aspect of the chapter or chapters we received in our turn—a character, or an event, or a location, or a word or object—and that we should feel free to follow the story in any direction it took us, forward or backward, up or down, in time or through space.

It's kind of a puzzling idea, but somehow it works. Here's a description of the book from the Scholastic website:

A video message from a dead person. A larcenous teenager. A man who can stick his left toe behind his head and in his ear. An epileptic girl seeking answers in a fairy tale. A boy who loses everything in World War II, and his brother who loses even more. And a family with a secret so big that it changes everything.

The world's best beloved authors each contribute a chapter in the life of the mysterious George "Gee" Keane, photographer, soldier, adventurer and enigma. Under different pens, a startling portrait emerges of a man, his family, and his gloriously complicated tangle of a life.

Okay, "the world's best beloved authors" is a bit of a stretch, but the book is a bit of a fantasy after all. The authors in question are David Almond, Eoin Colfer, Roddy Doyle, Deborah Ellis, Nick Hornby, Margo Lanagan, Gregory Maguire, me, Linda Sue Park, and Tim Wynne-Jones. After we were done, we were asked answer the question,

When you received the manuscript (or idea) for CLICK, what detail leaped out at you to inspire your part of the story?

Here's a link to our answers.

One Book, One Vancouver

Earlier this month I was delighted to learn that the Vancouver Public Library had selected “My Year of Meats” as the 2007 choice for One Book One Vancouver, a municipal reading program described as “a book club for the entire city.” It’s the oldest program of its kind in Canada, and it’s been great. I’ve been going down to Vancouver every couple of weeks to do events of various kinds, but the highlights have been the visits to the branch libraries, where I’ve had a chance to meet with smaller groups of readers and talk about the novel and the issues that it raises. This month, we'll be screening film, “Halving the Bones,” on Tuesday, June 11, and the program culminates at the Word on the Street festival in September.

I was especially moved when I heard about the selection because I wrote “My Year of Meats” while living in Vancouver in 1996-7, and I did most of the research for that book at the Vancouver Public Library. I remember how excited I was when I first visited the Central Library. I was really hard up for money that year, and I felt like I’d just won the lottery. The grand new building had just opened, and it was so airy and bright, with lots of crannies to curl up in, and carrels with electrical outlets, and even a food court with good coffee right outside. I would bike across the Georgia Viaduct from East Vancouver, where I was living at the time, grab a coffee, and then hit the stacks, searching for books on the meat, food and pharmaceutical industries, on synthetic hormones and antibiotic resistance, on the media and television and cultural theory, on roadside attractions in America. Other times I’d just wander, following some inchoate and undeniable pull toward Cannibalism, say, or Paleogeography, or Parapsychology.

Browsing the stacks is one of the true pleasures of a library. You walk slowly along with your head cocked, neck bent at a 90 degree angle and eyes perpendicular to the floor, skimming the shelves and letting the words drift from the spines into your subconscious where (you hope) they will spark new ideas and associations you’d never have thought of if you’d known what you were looking for. Occasionally, (frequently), you’ll reach out and pull a book off from the shelf and flip quickly through it, maybe adding it to the pile that’s growing in your arms. You’ll take it home. Maybe you’ll read it, or maybe just having it on your desk, largely unread, for three weeks will be enough to inspire. So much of fiction writing depends on the random factor, the fortuitous juxtaposition of mood and word and place that gives rise to the quirk of a character or the twist of a plot, so writers are browsers, culling for luck. You increase your odds by browsing, and true browsability can only be achieved in a real library, with real stacks, filled with real books on shelves. The digital world is infinitely rich in ideas and information, and keywords, metatag clouds and search engines greatly enhance its browsability, but nothing compares to the physical act of lurking in the stacks.

When I finished the draft of “My Year of Meats,” I took out books on How to Get Your Novel Published. I learned How To Write An Effective Query Letter, and How To Format A Manuscript For Submission, and How To Get an Agent. And I did these things. “My Year of Meats” owes its existence largely to what I learned at the public library.

So, this is why I am so happy that this particular book was chosen, but there’s another reason, too, which is that libraries are miracles of public munificence in an age of privatized corporate greed. Think about it. Imagine if there were no libraries, anywhere. The concept does not exist. And a politician comes up with this idea and goes to the legislature with a proposal. “I propose we take millions, no, billions of taxpayer dollars, and hire the most famous architects in the world to design and construct monumental landmark buildings in all of the big cities, and the small cities, too, and, hell, even the littlest towns, and when the buildings are built, we’ll fill ‘em up with books of all different kinds, which represent the entirety of human knowledge and experience, and then we’ll pass out these cards, see, and everyone, even people who don’t have any money or property, can come into the library and find the books they want to read, and take ‘em home and read ‘em! For free! Won’t that be great!?”

Uh huh. Right.

So we’re really lucky to have libraries, and we should use them all the time, and I'm happy to be the poster child for the library to which I am so deeply and gladly indebted.

Libraries will get you though times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries.

- Anne Herbert - Writer, editor of Co-Evolutionary Quarterly

happy valentine's day!

It's Valentine's Day, and I'm in love, and there you have it.

I am in the throes of a romance, which has obsessed and inspired me now for almost a week. It was pretty much love at first sight, and while I'm skeptical of quick infatuations (and there have been a lot of them), I'm starting to feel confident that this attraction will turn into a real and lasting relationship.

Of course, I'm in a relationship now, a long-term one, with an arrogant, bloated, and recalcitrant partner who has been growing more and more annoying to me as the years go by. And I have to confess, I've been looking for a way out. I've been shopping, cruising the Internet, desperately seeking a new . . .

. . . Right about now is when my friend broke into my rhapsodic effusion and said, dryly, "It's software, isn't it."

Alright, alright. It's software. The object of my infatuation is an elegant piece of writing software called Scrivener, and I'm not the only one who has fallen hard. The love analogy is one that's used over and over again on the user forums.

Before I go any further, let me say that this is a Mac only app, so if you are a PC user, well, this might be reason enough to switch teams.

To call Scrivener writing software implies that it's either a word processing program like Word (my old, tediously annoying bloatware partner), or some kind of creativity enhancing workshop-surrogate, designed to help you have clever ideas and put them together into pre-structured storylines.

Scrivener is neither. It's just one of the most intuitive and writer-friendly apps I've ever used. In my experience, genesis is chaotic, intuitive, iterative and emergent, and when I write, and especially when I'm beginning a project, I tend to have a lot of ideas all at once. I make hundreds of notes about characters, locations, actions, events, themes, chronologies, quotations, inspirations, research, you name it, and this process can go on for weeks or years. Organizing all this stuff is always a nightmare, and this is where Scrivener is most brilliant.

It has a research section for story and research notes, and lets you make internal links to documents as well as external links to web pages, sound files, video clips, and pdf files. It has powerful keyword and search support, and color coded labeling.

The actual writing happens in the draft section, and Scrivener is especially good if you're the kind of writer I am, and you know you've got a story growing inside your head because you start hearing voices, little bits and snippets of dialogue and description, which start to evolve into scenes and chapters, and you have to be able to jot these down and keep track of them, quickly, in a place that's easy to locate, open and add to.

When you're done with your manuscript, you can export it to Word or other word processing programs to do your final polishing and submission.

One of the things I like best is the index card and corkboard layout, which is exactly what it sounds like. Every file you create has an index card associated with it. When you switch to the corkboard layout, the index cards come up and you can move the sections of your story or article around and play with different ordering. (The corkboard graphics are a bit silly, but Scrivener lets you turn it off and create a nice color background instead.)

Once you have generated a collection of scenes in your file/cards, you can select them and use the Edit Scrivenings feature, which allows you to see and edit, in one continuous document, all the bits and pieces you've been working on.

Scrivener gives you immediate access to your Draft and Research areas in a binder, which lists all your files and folders in a column on the left hand side of the screen. The screen viewing options are great. You can split your screen, either vertically or horizontally, and work in two documents at the same time. And you can float your screen in Full Screen mode, which is really easy on your tired eyes.

Okay, I could go on and on. Instead, here's Merlin Mann's rave, and here, once again, is the developer's site.

You can download and use it for free for I think thirty days, but I bought my license within a few hours. (I told you it was love at first sight!)

One note: TAKE THE TIME AND DO THE TUTORIAL! It will take you about 30 - 45 minutes, and it's a really great overview of the landscape.

I don't normally promote products, like software, on this website, so you know this one is special. I hope you like it as much as I do. Happy Valentine's Day!


This, out from Norton—I just received my contributor's copy of Mixed: An Anthology of Short Fiction on the Multiracial Experience, edited by Chandra Prasad. Rebecca Walker wrote a great introduction, and other contributors include Danzy Senna, Cristina Garcia, and Diana Abu-Jaber, Peter Ho Davies and Wayde Compton. It's an excellent collection, and I'm happy to be part of it.

Chandra contacted me a while ago about contributing a story to the anthology, and when I found out that she had graduated from Yale and still lived in New Haven, I decided to write a short story using that very strange city, where I grew up, as a location. So I wrote "The Anthropologists' Kids," which is sort of an espionage thriller, featuring mixed race spy kids, set in the Anthropology Department at Yale. It was really fun to write.

Mixed got a very nice review in the San Francisco Chronicle, and I know that there are various readings and book events around the country, all of which I will try to post, if I can stay on top of it.

Meanwhile, here's some praise for Mixed:

“For those of us who are mixed, the question ‘what are you?’ is never simple. The stories in this groundbreaking anthology remind us that the answers are also never uninteresting. Nuanced, thoughtful, and deeply human, MIXED will appeal to anyone for whom the idea of ‘homeland’ is less a place than a state of mind.”
- Bliss Broyard, author of My Father, Dancing

“You may not have heard of some of these writers--but one day soon you will. In the meantime, don’t miss this chance to read their sometimes painful but always exhilarating fiction. With great skill, these stories convey the shades of gray--or black, yellow and brown--that get lost amid easy labels.”
- Paul Zakrzewski, editor of Lost Tribe: Jewish Fiction from the Edge