Birthday Reflections 2014

Many thanks to the more than twenty individuals who participated in the July 26 Open House celebration of my 70th birthday and the release of My Search for Deep Community: An Autobiography, as well as the many more who were unable to attend and sent me good wishes.

DSC02109Early on, prior to opening the first box of books, Rev. Glenda Hope offered a prayer of thanksgiving, while I hoped there were no major glitches in the manufacture of the books. There were none.

During the course of the day, most of the well-wishers took a book, along with a note explaining the kind of feedback I’m seeking at this time, and we primarily socialized informally, while occasionally looking at photos from my seven-month sojourn through the Dominican Republic, Arizona, and Lake Tahoe. The spread from Whole Foods Catering was largely scarfed up, as were my homemade split pea soup and sweet potato casserole (with pineapple juice and vanilla).

On three occasions, however, we engaged more formally in three exercises designed to elicit a deeper exchange than what normally occurs at such gatherings. My suggestion that we ask one individual twenty questions in order to get to know that individual more fully was modified to five questions, and seemed to elicit some valuable interaction. A “soul session” that involved people “speaking from the heart” and passing a “talking stone” to recognize the next speaker also led to some interesting conversation. And when some of the participants elaborated on “if you knew me ______” by filling in the blank, some informative personal information was shared. (I had learned that exercise at a Generation Waking Up event, but Phyllis Sakahara told us about a 2010 MTV reality-television show called If You Really Knew Me  that helped nurture empathy in high schools with that approach.)

I felt those three experiments were successful and helped enrich the entire event.

The “if you knew me” exercise made me realize more clearly that a major reason I wrote my autobiography is that I wanted to make it available to anyone who wants to know me more fully.

Late the next night David Marshall, a Berrett-Koehler Publishers (BK) vice-president who participated in the party, offered the following feedback on the book:

I’ve read enough of your book today to know that I recommend that you publish it to a wider audience sometime in the next twelve months, but I believe it needs a fair amount of manuscript shaping. It’s a great read, but the BIG IDEA of the book gets lost in the current structure. …If the goal is for the reader to know everything about you, then all the information you have included in this first version is relevant, but if the goal is to inspire your readers to search and find deep community in their own lives, then I think some of your chapters are extraneous….

Meanwhile, I would like you to consider [self-] publishing the next edition of your book as an Open Book Editions title. This would officially bring you into the BK author community, you will be invited to join the BK Authors Cooperative, which is a wonderful writers community, and as an OBE author, you would be qualified to attend our annual BK Authors Retreat, which I know you would love….

With that approach, BK would help promote the self-published book and if it did well, consider publishing it as one of their forty or so annual titles.

After reflecting on David’s comments, my current inclination is to seek co-authors for another, more focused book. The working title is What We Want: A Commitment to Compassion. The idea is that the co-authors would collectively write the opening chapter, a declaration, and individually write chapters elaborating on why they affirm that declaration. The declaration might invite readers to endorse the declaration, commit to certain initial actions, and pledge to participate in one or more larger projects if and when enough participation is elicited to launch those projects. My current draft of the declaration begins, “Chances are, you want what most people want. We want to:…”

But first I’ll wait for more feedback on My Search for Deep Community.

Among the many wonderful gifts I received at the party was an essay, “In Memoriam: Bob Dylan’s Modern Times” by Stephen Hazan Arnoff in the Spring 2007 Zeek. (Unfortunately I don’t remember who gave it to me; was it you, Dan Brook?) To see a slightly different online version, click here.

That essay’s analysis of Dylan’s work is relevant to the recent charges that Dylan plagiarizes. The piece argues that, as with Dylan, “a creative act in the ancient and medieval world was not an act of invention ex nihilio, but an act of re-imagination.” Dylan’s own comment on the charge of plagiarism was, “Those motherfuckers can go to hell.”

On a different point, the essay begins with a telling comment on apocalyptic thinking:

When Mikhal Gilmore of Rolling Stone asked Bob Dylan about the significance of the release of his album Love and Theft on September 11, 2001, Dylan offered a metaphor capturing the essence of his artistic vision: “I mean, you’re talking to a person that feels like he’s walking around in the ruins of Pompeii all the time. It’s always been that way for one reason or another.”

That quote reflects a stanza from the album:

They say times are hard, if you don’t believe it
You can just follow your nose
It don’t bother me – times are hard everywhere
We’ll just have to see how it goes

It’s no easy task to maintain a Zen-like detachment and avoid being seduced by the latest cable-news feeding frenzy focused on the latest manufactured crisis. For me, it helps to remember the more than 100,000 people who die prematurely every day due to economic oppression. Staying focused on the big picture and not being distracted by particular crises is difficult. But in the long run, facing reality is important.

In the meantime, I can only do what I can do (while taking care of myself).

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