My face is and isn’t me. It’s a nice face. It has lots of people in it. My parents, my grandparents, and their grandparents, all the way back through time and countless generations to my earliest ancestors—all those iterations are here in my face, along with all the people who’ve ever looked at me. And the light and shadows are here, too, the joys, anxieties, griefs, vanities, and laughter. The sun, the rain, the wind, the broom poles, and the iron fences that have distressed my face with lines and scars and creases—all here.

Say hi to your face, face. Say hi to the world.

What did your face look like before your parents were born? In The Face: A Time Code, bestselling author and Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki recounts, in moment-to-moment detail, a profound encounter with memory and the mirror. According to ancient Zen tradition, “your face before your parents were born” is your original face. Who are you? What is your true self? What is your identity before or beyond the dualistic distinctions, like father/mother and good/evil, that come to define us?

With these questions in mind, Ozeki challenges herself to spend three hours gazing into her own reflection, recording her thoughts, and noticing every possible detail. Those solitary hours open up a lifetime's worth of meditations on race, aging, family, death, the body, self doubt, and, finally, acceptance. In this lyrical short memoir, Ozeki calls on her experience of growing up in the wake of World War II as a half-Japanese, half-Caucasian American; of having a public face as an author; of studying the intricate art of the Japanese Noh mask; of being ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest; and of her own and her parents' aging, to paint a rich, intimate and utterly unique portrait of a life as told through a face.  



Alternately philosophical, funny, personal, political, and poetic, the short memoirs in The Face series offer unique perspectives from some of our favorite writers. Our inspiration for the series comes from a passage by Jorge Luis Borges:

“As the years go by, [the writer] peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”

This long essay, like the experiment it describes, is strange in the best sense, plus funny, moving and deeply wise.
SF Gate
Ruth Ozeki, a Zen Buddhist priest, sets herself the task of staring at her face in a mirror for three full, uninterrupted hours; her ruminations ripple out from personal and familial memories to wise and honest meditations on families and aging, race and the body.
Star Tribune
Throughout Ozeki’s essay her refreshing and cultivated wisdom leads us through the mind of a compassionate, grounded human and a writer of real integrity.
Electric Literature

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