Saturday, November 22, 2008

Zen and the Art of Convention Footwear

A friend pointed out an article by Dan Simmons on Zen and the Art of Writing Well. I'm not sure that a writer would get anything out of it, unless he/she already knew quite a bit about zen. On the other hand, there is an interesting part late in the article on Simmons' prescription for writers who have no empathy for their cardboard villains -

If you’re a great African-American novelist who cannot see into the human soul of a white man or woman because all you see is racism and historical inequity, quit writing fiction. If you’re John Steinbeck who knows every niche in the human heart of the displaced and powerless Oakies but has no clue as to the thoughts and feelings of the lettuce-growers and ranchers, admit defeat and do not publish fiction. (Or, if published, have your ghost call back the books and have them posthumously pulped.) If you have received the Nobel Prize for your sympathetic fiction-portrayal of the Oppressed and Downtrodden in South Africa but have no real understanding of why the landowner grandsons and granddaughters of colonists acted and thought as they did, pack it in. If you’re the screenwriter who drove Thelma and Louise triumphantly over the cliff of the Grand Canyon in a world where all men be slime, rent a Cadillac and go thou and do likewise.

Hmmm. Well, I think that's a bit harsh...

But here's my own little Zen story -

Zen and the Art of Convertion Footwear

Once, Joshu left the monastery to go to a writer's convention in Kyoto. There, he found the head monk Nansen in the back of the main hall, snoring deeply. Joshu, noting Nansen's inattention, decided to play a trick.

Joshu removed the head monk's sandals and replaced them with black pumps, then painted Nansen's face with Goth makeup. He hurried home to await the results.

Hours later, Joshu was trembling with suppressed humor when the head monk returned to the monastery shortly before dawn. Nansen entered, still wearing the makeup and shoes, and set about his daily routine. The other monks came and went, apparently oblivious to Nansen's change in attire.

Finally, when the evening meal came around, Joshu could hold his humor no longer, and asked, "Master, I am puzzled. What does white makeup and black shoes reveal about the Buddha-nature?"

"Kwatz" said Nansen, clouting Joshu on the head. "Only the lack of a matching belt."

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