When I was a boy, my dad waved his hand across his tall book case & said, Son, any book of mine you’re free to read. In the Army Now – 5th shelf up, 8th in from the right – was one he’d written, still a classic. And there I also found bound transcripts of talks by Krishnamurti. Plus a book of haiku. So a seed was planted & I became “a man of letters.” Thank you, Dad.
My mom was a fan of Thurber and subscribed to The New Yorker. I liked reading J D Salinger’s stories there, & also the little fillers, at the ends of articles, with quotes from items in the news, with their wry, acerbic comments. That’s where I learned a certain sense of literary discernment. Thank you, Mom.
My life has also been blessed to have been born within reach of living teachers. I’d had a mystic vision when I was 8. My first formal experience of meditation was at a Quaker retreat in 1964. Paul Reps showed me Zen at a little shop on Sunset Boulevard a couple years later. In San Francisco, I was first trained in zazen by Dainin Katagiri Roshi. These experiences are still in my bones: true memory. Thank you.
And I count myself fortunate indeed to have heard first-hand the chuckle in Alan Watts’ voice, at his Sausalito houseboat and his cottage in Druid Heights … to see the starshine twinkle in Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s clear eye … and to dance to the endless songs of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Thank you.
My root teacher is Vietnamese pacifist Zenmaster Thich Nhat Hanh. A descendant in his lineage, I am honored indeed to be ordained in his core community, which continues to make refuge for me, as I hope I for it. Thank you.
My father again comes to mind when I think of my writing guides. Dad once told me to think of every word I write as if they were going into a Western Union telegram, each costing money, and so to breathe warmth into each. In school, my mentors were Jack Hirschman, Robert Creeley, and Lew Welch, whose friendships endured beyond the walls of academe. George and Mary Oppen befriended me in 1969 and grounded me in the meaning of a life as writer. Later, Joanne Kyger took up some of the slack. Translating poetry from all the great Chinese dynasties with C H Kwock opened my eyes, which also gave me an amazing initiation into Chinese Zen. I continue to learn from Norma Cole, Juan Felipe Herrera, Stephen Kessler, Terry Kistler, Tongo Eisen-Martin, Laura Moriarty, Ishmael Reed, Barbara Jane Reyes, Jerome Rothenberg, Kim Shuck, Steven Silberman, Al Young, and Paul Vangelisti. Thank you.
Instead of selling newspapers when I was a boy, I was taught calligraphy by Sam Schweitzer, the Scribe of Laguna Beach, for whom I wrote names on plaques. Later I learned Renaissance humanist running hand via Lloyd Reynolds. (There’s nothing like seizing the means of production of the oldest of human technologies.) While in school, Brett Rohmer initiated me into the black art of fine handset printing. And working with Ward Dunham on calligraphy projects has extended my vision. Thank you.
I’ve bought and sold books. I’ve edited other people’s books – and done design and typography for others. I cannot adequately communicate the alchemy of seeing my own manuscripts transformed into print by Guy Bennett, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, John McBride, Jack Werner Stauffacher, and others. My writing itself has blossomed under the deft editorship of Nancy Owen Barton, Abe Chapman, Caroline Pincus, Jerome Rothenberg, and most of all through the veterans’ writing sangha established and maintained by Maxine Hong Kingston. Thank you.
Please don’t be mislead here. Everything is a teacher. A doggy’s wagging tail. A hummingbird’s pausing. A 2-year-old’s joy. Thank you.
After many many many years of study under many many many teachers I’ve come to learn the greatest teacher, the best authority, the ultimate author of wisdom, is the Inner Teacher.
And it’s always important for me to know I have a reader. I do want to know more about you. Meanwhile, I offer you a poem, as a teacup of the ocean of my keen respect and esteem. Thank you.
You Reading This, Be Ready
Starting here, what do you want to remember?
How sunlight creeps along a shining floor?
What scent of old wood hovers, what softened
sound from outside fills the air?
Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? Are you waiting
for time to show you some better thoughts?
When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life –
What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?