Last night I did my first book signing for Sex, Sin, and Zen: A Buddhist Exploration of Sex from Celibacy to Polyamory and Everything in Between (get yours now). I was at East/West Books in Mountain View, California.
Tomorrow night (Sept. 17th) at 7 pm I will be at Copperfield's Books in Petaluma, California.
On September 20th at 7 pm I'll be at Diesel Books in Oakland.
I'll also be on Henry Tannenbaum's show on San Francisco's KRON channel 4 on Sunday morning (Sept. 19th) at around 9 am.
Then I'm flying back to Milwaukee, where my car is parked, and driving to Akron, Ohio for rehearsals for Zero Defex's performance at a show called The Debacle on Saturday September 25th at Kent Stage in Kent, Ohio. The show starts at 8pm. We go on pretty late, around midnight.
Following that I'll be talking at the Cleveland Buddhist Temple on Wednesday September 29th at 7 pm.
Then it's on to New York for a book signing on October 15th at 7 pm.
This will be followed by a weekend non-residential zen retreat on Oct. 16th and 17th.
In November I'll be participating in a Dogen Translators Forum held at the San Francisco Zen Center November 5-7.
I'll also announce some Montreal gigs in October or November once the dust settles up there. And a couple events in and around Los Angeles in November.
All of this mad flurry of activity comes just as I get out of a month long stay at Tassajara Zen Mountain monastery in the middle of the Ventana Wilderness Area near Carmel Valley, California.
As you can see from the photo posted above, I got myself a haircut while I was out there. I've been into punkrock for 20-some years and this is my very first mohawk. I also somehow lost 10 pounds even while living on what seemed like a steady diet of the world's most delicious bread and cakes. Tassajara is famous for its baked goods, and rightly so.
I was initially asked to come to Tassajara to give a couple of talks to students there during the final week of their annual summer guest season. Tassajara mainly functions as a Zen monastery. But it was originally a hot springs resort and every summer they open up the resort for about three months to paying guests. There is no paid staff as such. All the guest relations and suchlike are handled by Zen students. These students follow a regular Zen schedule in the mornings and evenings and spend most of the rest of their days working the jobs necessary to keep the resort running. This includes room cleaning, bed making, cooking, dining room duties, keeping the pool and bath house running, washing dishes and so forth.
When I got the invitation I looked at my schedule and noticed I had about a month free. So I asked my friend Greg Fain, the tanto (head of practice) at Tassajara, if I could just come for the whole month and be a student. He made some inquiries and found out there was space, so the deal was done. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. But it felt like I needed this.
Y'see, folks, I'd been traveling around the world for the three or four months prior to going to Tassajara. I was the toast of all Europe, the Middle East and Asia, with rabid fans clawing their way to see me in Helsinki, Belfast, Warsaw, Toulouse, Berlin, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv, Shizuoka and elsewhere. People were stopping me on the street in Austin, Texas and Tokyo, Japan to tell me how much my books had meant to them. When paying by credit card for a used book in Knoxville, Tennessee the clerk said, "I thought I recognized you!" I'm starting to suspect that when I sometimes get stared at in restaurants and other public spaces maybe it's not because I have a booger hanging out of my nose, but could in fact be because not everyone who recognizes me feels comfortable coming up and saying "hi" (it's always OK with me, by the way, as long as people are respectful).
Plus the life I was living was drawing me further and further away from my Zen practice. It's hard to sit twice a day when you're zipping around from place to place faster than a speeding bullet all the time, meeting people, hanging out, seeing the sights, getting fed and all the rest.
How come all this is happening and I'm still poor as shit?
But I digress. I felt like I needed the rigorous schedule, the ridiculous rules and the hard work Tassajara requires of its students to get back on track. We'll see whether it worked or not.
I was assigned to the dining room where I was something like a waiter most of the time. There are no menus at Tassajara. The meals are the same for everyone. So there was no ordering involved and, unfortunately, no tips to be had. But I poured coffee, opened wine bottles (it's all BYOB there, no alcohol is sold or served), bussed dishes, brewed coffee, scraped compost into buckets and did most of the stuff waiters do. That was on days when I wasn't assigned to be a dish washer.
I have to admit, my first few days on the job I was all like, "Don't these people know who I am? I am one of the most important voices in Buddhism today! Refill your coffee? HA! You should be so lucky as to get your coffee refilled by a star of my caliber!"
I'm exaggerating, but not by much. And there were a few guests who did recognize me. But by and large the guests at Tassajara aren't my target audience. I was more often spotted by students. That was OK, though, because it doesn't take long to get over being starstruck by a guy who you see hauling stinky buckets of compost and cleaning encrusted crud off the samovar.
As Greg said just now when I read him some of this, "It's a great way to study the self." It sure was. Gives you perspective, perhaps even "too much perspective" as Spinal Tap said. But it was really good.
I had a few adventures. Like when I went out for what was supposed to be a three hour hike with three other people. We ended up losing our bearings in the woods and had to spend the night at a campsite we found, completely unprepared. I had on a t-shirt and jeans. It gets down into the 40s Fahrenheit at night out there in the mountains. No sleeping bag, no jacket. I had a towel wrapped around my shoulders to try and stave off some of the cold. Oh and we'd walked through the creek for much of the way and were soaking wet.
I met some amazing people. Formed a punk rock band. Re-learned stuff I'd forgotten. Officiated a well-being ceremony for Nina Hartley's mom. Dressed up in my robes just about every single day. Got my first mohawk. Learned some new jokes (Q: What has two knees and swims in the ocean? A: A two-knee fish!). It was totally worth it and I'd do it again anytime the staff there will put up with me.
I'll write up more of my overall impressions of the place in the coming weeks.
See ya at the book signings!
Thursday, September 16, 2010