Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Next Book

On both my computer desktop and my literal one, I have a first draft of a new book tentatively titled Round the World and Back Again: Travel with a Point of View.It’s the story of a one year trip my soon-to-be wife and I took in 1978-79 when travel was an altogether different experience then it is today. We spent a couple of months hitchhiking around Europe, then five months in India, three of those in the southern state of Kerala. On to northern India, Nepal, Thailand, Singapore and then another couple of months in Java and Bali, Indonesia, ending in Japan before coming home to get married, pregnant and resuming our teaching at the school we both stayed some 40 more years.


Meanwhile, I’ve set off to write another book inspired by the 50th anniversary of my life as a Zen student, Jazz musician and Orff teacher. Tentatively titled Zen, Jazz, Orff: Blueprint for a Happier Future, it’s a look at the core principles of each of these three disciplines and how they overlap. The fact that I wake up each morning with the next sentence in mind is a sign that this is an authentic project worthy of my time. But alongside that conviction come the doubts. I wrote about that in what I thought might be a prologue to the book and now I think it won’t. But since I went to the trouble to write it, here it is here:


When a writer—or at least this writer—sits down to undertake a project as daunting as a book, it is often with an equal measure of self-confidence and self-doubt. On the confidence side, some benevolent inner voice decrees “I am the only one who can write this particular book and there is a reason why I not only should, but must.” The doubting voice in the other ear asks—“But ah, am I worthy? Are the ideas worthy? Is this worth the time and effort?”


If one scales that first foreboding wall and indeed, decides to write it, the next questions arise: “Does the world need this? Is anybody interested? Does anybody care?”


I imagine writers since time immemorial have struggled with these same nagging doubts and questions. If we hold their books in our hands, it means they have persevered, trusting that their voice wants to be heard and must have its say, whether or not the reading public loves it, hates it or is indifferent. And that the fact of the book in our hand means enough have cared to read it that the publishers continued to publish it.


Merely getting published brings great satisfaction to any writer. If enough books sell to help pay rent, why, so much the better. If it becomes a NY Times Bestseller, we count it a grand success and are quite happy to know so many have enjoyed the work and spread the word. But perhaps also terrified that now the bar is set high for the next work and that our true inner voice is in danger of writing to a market in an attempt to repeat the success. More so than ever in today’s publishing climate, where a company is less likely to judge a book on its intrinsic merit and is much more concerned with market research, the author’s social media presence, the quota of keywords that the collective culture wants to hear before it pays attention, market value seems to be overpowering the conviction that there’s something that must be said and someone worthy to say it.


This is on my mind as I sit down to write about three esoteric practices known to only a very few in contemporary culture and practiced by even less. The number of Zen students, performing jazz musicians and Orff teachers working in schools collectively would probably fill just a tiny corner of the crowd in a Taylor Swift concert. In a sound-byte world and a public discourse of clichéd platitudes bouncing around our echo chambers, who cares to read about three ancient and contemporary traditions that require rigorous thought, disciplined practice and nuanced aesthetics and sensitivity? And even if the reader is familiar with one, what Zen student wants to think about jazz, or jazz musician care to know about Orff or Orff teacher be interested in Zen? In short, the themes of this book are not aligned with best-seller material, to put it mildly!


And yet. Alongside the sensible doubts, I’m convinced that it’s all worthy. Here’s why:


1) No matter where you stand in the circus of identities, politics, religions, beliefs, a moment of honest reflection reveals the obvious. We all of us are suffering—together. Each day we’re dipped into the toxic and trauma-inducing and triggering mess of the daily news and this is good for exactly none of us. We are all hungry for a scrap from the table of the bounteous banquet of truth and beauty that actually is available, but mostly hidden from our sight. Each of these three practices offer a dynamic blend of comfort and solace, revelation and liberation, rigorous exercise of our atrophied minds, bodies and souls. We all need “a little help from our friends” and if you’ve never met them, these are friends that have been proven trustworthy, loyal, fun and supportive of our deepest needs. 


2) If you already move inside one of these circles, here’s a chance to meet some distant cousins you didn’t know you had and marvel at the familial similarities and delightful differences. A chance to get a new perspective on your chosen family by hanging out with some distant relations. 


3) Most importantly, the way these three family members overlap offers a look at the universal practices that lead us to our better selves. Disciplined practice, creative freedom, , dedicated service, community gathering,  honoring ancestors and blessing descendants, trusting first-hand experience over second-hand knowledge or blind faith or random belief— these and more are all stepping-stones to the healing we need and deserve.


And writing this as a teacher of children, these are precisely the North stars of our schools’ vision and foundations for an enlightened educational practice. Far beyond the interesting insights into traditions begun in Asia, Africa and Europe and traveled worldwide to affect all of culture, is the practical knowledge of how to create a sustainable world and world view for the generations to come. That’s why I decided to write this book. 



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