A Matter Of Faith

Years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Niwa Zenji, the then head of the Soto Zen sect in
Eihei-ji, Japan. At one point I was describing some of the privileges I’d been accorded during my travels in Japan and asked him why they’d happened to me, an ordinary tourist. Referring to one incident at Todaiji Temple in Nara he said, “Those monks could clearly see you were a man of faith.”

“I am?” I responded—shocked. I had no concept of myself that included “man of faith.” On the contrary, I felt myself plagued with doubts. Nor have I, in the ensuing years, developed greater interest in what people believe. On the contrary, I’ve been far more curious about what they knew as a result of walking a particular path  So I was surprised to find myself starting a new collection of poems, entitled, “A Matter Of Faith.” Even more surprising, returning home from dropping my older daughter off at college in Washington, DC a few weeks ago, I found myself having a direct encounter with my faith. In the days following, I’ve struggled to articulate that faith, so this poem is definitely a work in progress.


In Truth, we are never alone.
We can never be apart from

The whole of creation.
It is not possible.

Thinking otherwise
Is delusion.

I am part of everything that is
And everything that is

Is part of me.
I am worthy of being here and

You are worthy of being here—
Each of us

With our individual parts to play
In the vast unfolding of it all.

I am home.
We are home.



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The Writer’s Life In A Changing World—Part 5

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here

Read Part 4 here

The Writer’s Life In A Changing World—Lower Expectations?

In his insightful blog, Seth Godin offers two separate lists (list 1, list 2) of marketing tips for writers. I want to reflect a bit on what he has in the number-one position on each list; they’re closely related:

1. Lower your expectations. The happiest authors are the ones that don’t expect much. (2005)

1. Please understand that book publishing is an organized hobby, not a business. The return on equity and return on time for authors and for publishers is horrendous. If you’re doing it for the money, you’re going to be disappointed.

On the other hand, a book gives you leverage to spread an idea and a brand far and wide. There’s a worldview that’s quite common that says that people who write books know what they are talking about and that a book confers some sort of authority. (2006)

Any comparison of the number of books published versus the number of authors making useful amounts of money at it is damn sobering stuff. Seth Godin certainly has his facts straight. The odds are definitely against you achieving anything that resembles business success.

I have, however, a question about lowering our expectations. Does the unlikelihood of ever realizing material success or fame from your writing mean you should lower your expectations? Or should you, instead, adopt different sets of expectations—aligned with marketplace realities—that are high nonetheless?

I have a lot of respect for Seth Godin, especially because he makes me think hard about things. Moreover, I think he’s right, but only to a point. This man, who’s forgotten more about marketing than I’ll ever know, is somewhat off the mark here. What he said applies only to your business expectations. Here’s why that’s important:

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I AM — Competitive Versus Collaborative

An Unexpected Treat

I watched this documentary last night mainly on the strength of its trailer. The reviews on iTunes were pretty mixed, but something told me this film just might be really good. It was, and now I want my wife and kids to watch it and discuss it. And I want to recommend it to anyone who thinks I’m a reasonably thoughtful person, who’d never recommend anything I did not believe was genuinely worthwhile. The trailer does a good of telling you what I AM is about. All I can add that is that it’s an intelligent, provocative and well-crafted look at whether we are actually more competitive or collaborative by nature.  I think you’ll be left wanting to learn more, which is a good thing.

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The Writer’s Life In A Changing World—Part 4

Read Part 1 here

Read Part 2 here

Read Part 3 here

What’s Changing For Writers? The Need For New Curators

From the writer’s standpoint all the changes I’ve been enumerating contain a lot of good news/bad news. The more-level playing field that the Internet has created also means almost a complete absence of standards and an enormous lack of (or opportunity for) credible curators to bring the best new work to the attention of receptive audiences.

To be sure, this is a complicated issue. Publishers (and, in particular, book editors) are still performing this task along with literary critics. But they also do not command the degree of consumer attention they once did, and so are less determiners of what gets read or discussed. Simultaneously, the culture has shifted considerably, and being a published author does not necessarily command the attention or confer the gravitas it may once have.

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On This Corner Of Quiet Streets—Writer’s Instinct

Writer’s Instinct

I’ve been working on what turned out to be a short ten-line poem for the past three days. Several times a day, I told myself to just throw it away and start something else. Yet something else, writer’s instinct—for lack of anything better to call it urged me not to. This morning around 4AM I woke with not just the two final lines, but a deeper understanding of what the poem wanted to be. I also woke to a flood of memories from my first year teaching Freshman English and Creative Writing at Memphis State University. But first the poem:

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The Writer’s Life In A Changing World—Part 3

Read Part 1 Here

Read Part 2 Here

Collaboration Versus Competition

Back when I was starting out, writers were in friendly (and sometimes not so friendly) competition with one another. This competitive climate was driven largely by the fact that access to publishers and publication was restrictive, and (in the academic scene at least) a lot depended upon whom you knew and whether or not they liked and recommended you. Access to the major and lesser publishing houses is, of course, still highly restricted, but their sphere of influence is not what it once was. Writers now have alternatives—with self-publishing becoming more mainstream everyday.

But, in addition to leveling the playing field considerably, the Internet has done much to alter the basic nature of the relationship between artists—from somewhat competitive to generally more collaborative. There are a lot of reasons driving this as a general shift or trend. Here are just a few:

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The Writer’s Life In A Changing World—Part 2

Read Part 1 here

What are the odds of earning your living as a creative writer? 

This is one of those questions—the kind that perhaps you don’t want the answer to. Oh, we all readily acknowledge the odds are long, but perhaps we’d rather not know just how long. Besides, we love writing too much to let lousy odds discourage us.

Personally, I wish I had examined this question a bit more critically when I was in graduate school, not because it would have made any difference to my decision to pursue a writer’s life. It might have, however, dramatically altered early on my expectations around what success would look like and thereby saved me some anguish.

Okay,  you might want to stop reading right now….

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The Writer’s Life In A Changing World

I find myself asking why do I write? more often these days. I’ve been at this for the better part of a lifetime, so why now? The short answer is because the game has changed so completely since I was a freshly minted poet out of the University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop.

What’s changed? Basically everything other than writing. Here are my top seven things that are changing:
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I Think Sometimes—Richard Geller

I Think Sometimes

I think sometimes
What’s the point
Of writing poems, stories or songs?

Deep inside, I think
Most writers understand
This world is crazy

That everyone is simply pursuing
Whatever it is
They think will make them happy

And all that desire
Consumes our world in wars

Ponzi schemes, pollution and falsehoods,
Even as its beauty and its pain
Enchants and puzzles us

And we write in search
Of a surer path to happiness
For ourselves and each other.

I think sometimes
How naïve we are.
And then I write the lines


Occupy Wall Street—Richard Geller

Some thoughts after reading Fast Company’s “The Inside Story Of Occupy Wall Street:”

Those old enough to remember the civil rights movement and the anti-Viet Nam war protests of the 60’s, know that fundamental change does not really come from Washington. “When the people lead, the leaders will follow” is unfortunately closer to the truth—unfortunate only because things have to get pretty bad before large numbers of people take to the streets in protest. But this cycle has been repeated often enough that there should be no surprise when it does happen.

We are at another such point in our history when government has become so thoroughly dysfunctional, so firmly committed to maintaining the status quo, that fundamental reforms are required to assure the most basic expectations of any stable modern society: universal, affordable access to quality education and healthcare, an economic Bill of Rights for all citizens, renewal of infrastructure, the rule of law, and a restoration of government’s system of checks and balances.

When we have hundreds of thousands marching on Washington and in all the cities of this country, some of our elected representatives will awaken to the urgent need for reform. For now, they are in denial that they are (both Democrats and Republicans) wholly out of step with reality.

Properly framed, there are only seven or so basic issues that most Americans expect their elected officials to work, and no political rhetoric of finger-pointing and fear mongering, whether from the right or the left, will hide their failure to do the actual job for which they’re elected.

For most, I suspect their time has passed. We need younger representatives, who understand the world as it is now, who are ready to work the real problems and seek viable, sustainable solutions and not those who stubbornly cling to a world that no longer exists.

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