Buddhism at Millennium's Edge - Seminar 1

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Copyright 1998 by Peter Matthiessen - Unedited Preview Cassette

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Good morning, everybody. Thank you, Norman, again, for a wonderful and warm introduction. I'm only slightly embarrassed by peddling my books. I think most people think when they see somebody speaking, a writer speaking somewhere, that he probably is dragging suitcases full of his wares to be sold. That really is not the case, and it's slightly embarrassing. There are many embarrassments involved in being a writer, and I think that I'll talk about some of those after we have a sitting period. But it's kind of interesting what keeps people writing against the grain of various humiliations and refusals and objections and so forth. And I think I'll probably begin, I've talked to Norman about this, I'll begin by, am I coming? I guess I am. Wow, sorry. I'll begin by talking a little bit about my


own writing life, and especially as Zen affects it, because that's really why we're here. And then after that, in the next period, I'll probably talk about practical matters of writing and so forth. And we'll have more Zazen all the way through. If we have time, or if people like it, and there'll be a chance of dialogue, and so I'll be able to sound you out about what you would like to, how you would like to work today. There are an awful lot of us here for a writing exercise. I'm not quite sure how we can do that, and maybe we won't. If the talk is good enough, I think I'll probably dispense with it. There are many ways you can go about writing exercises, and I can tell you how to do it. So I think we'll begin, as we almost always do in this practice, with some Zazen. And will you ring the bell, Norman? This is a very good period to do strong Zazen. For reasons you'll find out as we go along,


really try to open yourself up. Ring the bell. Ring the bell. Ring the bell. Birds around. Terrific. I'm going to talk, I know I shouldn't do this as a Zen teacher


and so forth, but I'm going to talk about myself and my own writing. And I think I began very early not knowing it. It's kind of a disease. There's a friend of mine who teaches writing, always says to his class, if you had any choice about being here, you shouldn't be here. And I think that's, in a way, writers are kind of fanatic. They're the most thin-skinned and the most thick-skinned people both, because no writer likes criticism, but all good writers hear the criticism that applies, and you make the most of it. I began by keeping lists, all sorts. I just wrote. My mechanism was just writing, you know, without knowing why I was doing this or what. But by the age of 15, I was already writing short stories. Very bad short stories. At 15, I had nothing to write about that I wanted to share with


anybody. So I wrote about people in old people's homes and about retarded boys and all other subjects that I was expert in at that age. I noticed that even John Updike's first book was about in old people's homes. So maybe that's some sort of, tells you something, but I can't think why. And then in college, I took writing courses, which I have a mixed feeling about. And then I was asked back to teach writing. Here I was just a senior in college. I was teaching writing, you know. And I hated public speaking at that time. I've gotten somewhat better, but I was just terrified. Luckily for me, the Atlantic Monthly took my first short story that I ever sold. And it won the Atlantic Prize that year, and they took another story. And that got me through that first class. I could just, I had a little clout to scare these guys back into place. They knew me as a guy running


around the campus probably drinking too much and a general, you know, misbehaved student and so forth. So I had to, I needed something to put me over, and that story came along just at the right time. And on the basis of these two stories, I was able to get an agent. Now, this is a very big step when you're a new writer. It doesn't look so big right now. And I picked the toughest agent in town. She was married to a novelist who was called James Gould Cozzens, who very rightly is sunk now into oblivion, but he was very highly regarded at that time. And his wife was named Bernice Baumgarten, and she was my agent. And I told her that I was embarking on my first novel, which I did. And after about 150 pages, I thought, well, gee whiz, this is just too good. This is the great American novel, quite obviously, and I should give them some advance warning so they won't be struck down. So I sent off about 150 pages to Bernice. And then I kind of hung around the


post office like the village idiot for weeks, waiting for word from Hollywood to roll in. And then I heard from Bernice a letter came, but it was accompanied by the manuscript, which I thought was a little disturbing, but not much. I opened it up, and her letter said, and I promise you, this is word for word what it said. I could not be mistaken about this. It was etched into my brain. It said, Dear Peter, James Fenimore Cooper wrote this 150 years ago. Only he wrote it better. Yours, Bernice. That was it. So shortly thereafter, I moved to Paris. And there, there's a writer there called Terry Southern. Some of you may know Terry's work, like Dr. Strangelove. He heard about some contests in England, so we both fired off stories for a contest in England about Christmas.


And he and I were both among 450 second prizes. The first prize was run by Muriel Spark, who was unknown then, but she's turned into a very good writer. So I thought, well, I'll appease Bernice Baumgarten by sending her a commission on this story. But the story only got, the prize was about 18 bucks, so the commission didn't amount to much. But I thought she would appreciate my courtesy, having spent so much on stamps for manuscripts that came back over and over. So I sent it off. And sure enough, a letter came back from Bernice and it said, Dear Peter, I'm awfully glad you were able to get rid of this story in Europe, because I do not think we would have had much luck with it here. Yours, Bernice. So you can see that the writer's life was already getting kind of sharp. But I did write my first novel over there. It wasn't a very good novel. It got pretty good reviews, but it wasn't so good.


And the second one, too. And about this time, I decided that I made this decision here. I'm a published novelist. I had my first publisher and everything. And I thought the first person I ever see reading one of my books, I will introduce myself and inscribe the book to them. This was a little plan I had. Twenty-five books later, outside of a reading in a shop or something, I had never caught anybody reading one of my books. And so pathetic was I. I was a haunted figure looking around on subways. One time going through a parking lot somewhere, I saw a tattered old paperback copy of one of my books on the front seat of a car. And I circled the car like some sort of a pervert. And the window was open about that much and I


managed it. And then I wrote this fulsome inscription. That's as close as I came. And then, of course, it occurred to me later that if they ever did come across the book, maybe they finished it and were going to throw it out that day. If they ever came across, they thought somebody was being funny. So it never, it wouldn't have worked anyway. But I kept at it. I wrote another second novel and then the third. And then I realized I'd resorted to commercial fishing. I was running a deep sea fishing boat out of Montauk, New York. And I loved that fishing life. But I realized I wasn't making it financially as a writer. And I had to do nonfiction, write for magazines and stuff. And one of my very first assignments was for Sports Illustrated. They agreed, I don't know why, to do a couple of pieces on vanishing wildlife in America. That was one of the few things I knew about. I knew about boats and that hadn't worked out. There was a


magazine then called Holiday Magazine. They said that we would like an article on boats. The country was boat crazy that year for some reason. And I didn't know about boats. I was running a boat, you know, professionally and everything. So I wrote an article and I said the very worst, one of the things I said in the article was the very worst boat you can buy for the money is Chris Craft. And they immediately called up and they said, do you read our magazine? And I said, no, I don't. And they said, well, if you did, you'd realize that Chris Craft is our biggest advertiser and we simply cannot put this in your article. And I said, well, you can't write an honest article about boats without saying that. Chris Craft made a couple of good models, but most of them are overpriced, fat cocktail boats, they're not worth the money. They said, we're not going to say that. And I said, well, I'm not going to sign it unless you do. So we had a kind of a standoff and I finally did. I said, I'll tell you what, I need the money and I did the work. Why don't you sign it and send me the money? Sign your editor's name to it.


And this was the unholy bargain we made. Then the wildlife thing came along and Sports Illustrated, they reneged. They only wanted, they wanted three at first and they only wanted two. And meanwhile, I'd done this enormous amount of work because I was sure there was a book like my book, Wildlife in America, out there somewhere. And all I had to do was locate that book and crib everything from it and then I would have my article. Meanwhile, I was traveling around the country seeing the birds that I wanted to see and talking to fisheries experts and mammalians and fox and wolf people. And I had a great trip, no question about it. But anyway, and finally, I had so much and I realized there was no such book, so I wrote the book myself. I didn't want all this research. That's how that book came into place. During this trip, I was camped in a tent on the beach in Oregon at Tillamook, on the Tillamook Reservation. Some of you may know Tillamook. It's not a very big place even today. It was much smaller then. And I was 25 miles outside of Tillamook and I ran out of reading material on a rainy night in my tent.


So I thought, well, I'll go into Tillamook and get a little gray hamburger and they probably have one of these spin racks with these busty novels on them for airport consumption and maybe I'll find something I can read. So I did. Sure enough, I got a little gray hamburger and there was exactly one spin rack as anticipated and on the spin rack was a really dangerous looking book. It showed this young woman in bed and there's a guy sitting on the edge of the bed taking off his shoes. And I said, well, that's promising. But not nearly as promising as the third person in the room who was standing fully dressed in a suit and tie watching it, but apparently with the concurrence of these two other normal people. So I said, that's pretty good. It was called Underbelly of Paris or something like that. So I drove 25 miles back to my tent and I curled up in my bedroll and got all set to read. And I opened the book and there in very fine print on the bottom of the first page it said, Partisans by Peter Matheson.


In those days, young writers were chattels and the publishers could simply sell your book, change the title. Needless to say, you can take one look at me and you realize there'd be no such scene in a book of mine. And indeed, of course there wasn't because the book was one of us. So again, I'm just stressing that the writing life is not for everybody. Humiliations are rife. And I was really 40 before I was able to write what I wanted and not have to write and have fights with magazines, which I did. But the big break I got was that Mr. Sean, Mr. William Sean, had a few years earlier before I started to write, he had become the editor at The New Yorker and he had published a piece, An Annals of Crime. I wrote with Ben Bradley. We were both in Paris. Then he later became the editor of The Washington Post. And that was my first one. But I wasn't that


interested in crime. But I was interested in wilderness by now. And I said, Mr. Sean, would you send me around the world? Let me cover the wildernesses. Everybody's writing about New York and Europe and places, but the wildernesses are really going under in wildlife. And how about letting me do that? And he said, okay. And I practically ran to the boat to South America and two books came out of that. The Cloud Forest, which was nonfiction, and a novel, At Play in the Fields of the Lord. And it was that novel that kind of turned the corner for me because it had a huge, well, huge for me, movie sale. And it took them 25 years to get around to making the movie. But anyway, it did sell to the movies. And when the movie did come out, it lost $20 million, I should say. Almost at once. They didn't even stay long enough to get reviewed hardly. It was gone. They just didn't come on that crucial first weekend. It was over three hours long. It was about South


American Indians without horses and missionaries. And nobody wanted to see this. They didn't think that was a very appealing combo. And it's actually quite a good movie, despite the romantic talents of Tom Berringer and Daryl Hannah. It's very hard for those two to pull a scene together, but the rest was great. It has Kathy Bates and Aidan Quinn and John Lithgow, Tom Waits, the singer, and so forth. Anyhow, let me see. I should mention here that for the first 10 years of my writing, I really did nothing but fiction. And I still consider myself essentially a fiction writer. I wrote nonfiction to make money. And I always rather despised my nonfiction. And then a painter friend of mine said, why do you despise your nonfiction? You just go to nonfiction or fiction according to what's appropriate, but your themes are pretty much the same throughout. And so they're really elegies to the wildernesses. They're pleased to defend the wilderness and


wildlife. They're pleased for traditional people, you know, all over the world and for social justice. And that is true. I was writing about an Indian victim in my very first novel. My very first novel and my very first nonfiction book both had Indian people. I've always been interested in our own American Indian people. I wonder why we're constantly lecturing the rest of the world about human rights when we have a perfectly dreadful record right here at home we should take care of. And that's been my kind of thing. I didn't write an explicitly social action book until I wrote, I worked with and wrote about Cesar Chavez here in California on the grape strike in the late 60s. And that became a New Yorker profile. And I was so taken with Chavez. Chavez is a truly great man. I wrote an epitaph for him when he died in the New Yorker. And I said, historically, Cesar Chavez is a far, far greater Californian than Mr. Reagan or Mr. Nixon.


And I truly, I truly believe that he was a very moving guy. And he taught me so much, so much about people and organizing and not abandoning people once you take up their cause. He was just a terrific brain in this way. And also a lovely, gentle, funny, humorous guy who could be very tough when he had to be. And then I went into American Indian problems. Explicitly, I wrote a book called Indian Country. And I wrote another one called In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, which inspired the longest libel suit in American history. I was sued for 24 million, me and my publisher, I and the publisher, 24 million. And that suit was backed up by the FBI. They had one of their agents sue me for an additional 25 million. And that suit lasted nine years, even though there was no libel involved whatsoever. The publisher's lawyers said at once, there's no libel here. These people are simply harassing you and your publisher. They want to put you out of


business. And I didn't like that. I consider my, I'm very critical of our country, but I'm also very proud of this country. This country is really an astonishing place. And I get angry because I think we let down our own constitution, our own principles so often. The last few years, beating up on small brown countries. You know, I'll tell you, this is, I think, a disgrace. And I feel we should say as much, but the authorities don't like people saying this. And that book, it cost three million bucks in legal fees to defend it. And they said, the lawyers said all along, if they get us in court, we're dead. We'll have to default. Never mind about the truth or justice. We can't go up against all that money. And guess who was paying for those lawsuits? You guys and me. So all that tax money was being marshaled against us and they were supporting Governor Janklow's suit. I said about Janklow, I said something that was absolutely


the truth. And this was the essence of their libel charge. I said that he had been found guilty in Rosebud Reservation Tribal Court with a judge of record, not a kangaroo court. He'd been found guilty of raping his 15-year-old Indian babysitter. Now, Newsweek Magazine said the same thing and he sued them. And he lost. But even though he lost, he sued me again. So this was a nonsensical suit in a way. But there's been no book that I know of like that since. It really chilled our First Amendment free speech rights. And that was the point, I think. So, so much for that. I, in a way, I spent an awful lot of time on that and I spent a lot of time on the book. And I sometimes regret that I hadn't put that into my fiction. I put an awful lot of time into that kind of stuff and also environment and also the so-called Zen books, this book Nine-Headed Dragon River, which was really a way of supporting Tetsugan Roshi and his new Zen villain East. But I don't, I've always held to


that Albert Camus, who's a writer I admire very much. And when he won the Nobel Prize, he said that it's part of the, not in the 19th century where it wasn't the same thing, but he said in the 20th century, it is part of every writer's obligation to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. And I completely endorse that. That seems to me, by this time, of course, I was also a student of Buddhism. And it seems to me this is a principle of right livelihood too. We take care of one another. I had a guy, an old guy say to me, that's what we're here for, to take care of each other. That's our purpose in life, is really being merciful, bodhisattvas, taking care of people. Because life can be pretty tough. And indeed, it can be great and terrible. I was talking about that this morning with some people at breakfast here. But so that's kind of what I'm doing. It all comes, it all boils down to the same thing. I think I've said just about enough in my life. I don't mean


in this, I probably said enough here too, but I'm talking about in my books. Maybe it's time I started erasing. But meanwhile, I've written a book called Far Tortuga. Perhaps that book, more than any other, would come under Zen writing, really more than the two books that deal with Zen, which are The Snow Leopard and Nine-Headed Dragon River. But Far Tortuga really was written under the influence of Zen practice. I was in love with spareness. And I was on this, what happened was that I was, Mr. Sean agreed, again with doubt. He even sent me on a Sasquatch on time. And he said, Mr. Matheson, if this was anybody but you, I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. But I was interested and amused. So this time I heard about this wonderful, I read a great, great book. If you haven't read it, read it. It's called The Windward Road. And


Archie Carr, now deceased, and he mentioned that there was still a schooner sailing out of Grand Cayman Island down to the Turtle Coast of Nicaragua under full sail. And I said, oh, I got to get on that boat. So I asked Mr. Sean to back me up for a trip to Grand Cayman. And I went. And I actually, after years, I went on a turtle voyage. And then I kind of pride myself on not mounting big expenses, even for a magazine that probably can afford them. But I just kind of, as a matter of my own pride, don't do that. But on this occasion, there was this pirate down there who smelled money, the New Yorkers' money. And he took me for everything. He kept delaying the trip. I had to make trip after trip down to Grand Cayman before it finally happened. And so I built, for me, quite a big expense account on it. And even worse, having done that, I made this voyage and I was stunned by these men. It just fitted our whole Zen practice about not wasting and so forth.


Everything on that ship was worn down. Everything was used, not abused, just used. Even the paint on the turtle boat, on the skiffs they would send off from the mothership, even those, the paint was worn transparent. It was kind of a transparent cerulean blue. Wonderful. And the men themselves were so windblown and lean and kind of thing. They were just absolutely great. The hats were full of holes, but nothing was thrown away. Everything was used. They really were traditional people, but they were on this boat. And they had no life-saving equipment. The radio didn't work. The helm was being transferred, but they hadn't finished it when they sailed. So the helmsman couldn't see anything. He had to get instruction from the side because there's a big structure in front of it. The whole boat was absolutely crazy. And there's no coast guard down there. And you have this howling trade wind going all the time. I really admired these guys. They went out and did dangerous work every single day expertly and no complaint and no nothing. And I said, I want her. This is a novel. And also certain


dramatic things happened. So I got back having spent too much money. And I said to Mr. Sean, I have to tell you that I can write your article for you, but I have to hold back the best material. I'm not going to give it to you. I want to write a novel. And Mr. Sean, without any hesitation, this was my highest point with an editor in my entire life. There haven't been very many high ones. But he said, Mr. Matheson, do what's best for your own work without any hesitation. You owe us money. What do you mean? You're not going to give us the best stuff, didn't we? None of that kind of whining. He just said, do what's best for your own work. I thought, that is a great editor. And when he was thrown out of The New Yorker a few years ago, just before he died, I wrote him a letter. I said, you won't remember this episode. But for me, it was the apex of my career working with editors and publishers. He was an extraordinary man.


And so where am I? I've covered all those things, Zen books and social action and novels. Now I'm embarked. I wrote a book of short stories. My editor at Random House came to me and said, hey, you wrote a lot of short stories in the old days. And I said, I sure did, about 35 or something. And he said, let's put a book up together. You're well enough known now, so we can handle a book of short stories. So I said, great idea. Terrific. So I rushed home to my files, the papers. Many of those stories had sort of turned yellow, and there was quite a lot of mouse droppings and stuff in the box. I went through them. I couldn't find, we needed about 10 or 12 of them. I found seven that I would sign my name to, and the rest were really not any good. They were really green. And I said, I'm sorry, we haven't got a book. They just aren't there. But then in the succeeding years, I wrote two long stories that filled out this book, and I think they were good stories. And they published it. That book was called On the River Styx. And then I was already embarked


on this huge, perhaps fatal, terminal trilogy novel about this man I'd heard about, first from my father, actually. We were traveling up the west coast of Florida, outside the 10,000 Islands, which are now part of the Everglades. And he said, there's a river there called Chatham River, and there's a house up there. It's the only house in the Everglades. And let me remind you that the Everglades, including the 10,000 Islands, is the biggest roadless area in the United States. We think that Montana or Texas would have that. It's not true. It's in Florida. And it was very inhospitable. For a long time, it had the Seminole and Miccosukee Indians there, who were the only people who ever really defeated the U.S. Army. They never beat them. It had a lot of things encouraging people to stay out. So therefore, it was full of outlaws and drifters, Civil War deserters, who never heard about the end of the war, and stuff like that. Those were the people that attracted it. And this man, Edgar Watson, who owned this house,


was a sort of a genius planter. But he also had a very checkered career. He had a violent temper. And on October 24th of 1910, his neighbors literally blew him away. They put 33 bullets in him. And I thought, you know, how does this happen? Neighbors rise up and kill their neighbor. I have it stuck in my brain. I wanted to know why that happened. I wasn't so interested in the event. In fact, at the beginning of the first book of the trilogy, called Killing Mr. Watson, to the—I enraged my British publisher by putting the death of Mr. Watson right up in the front, so that I wasn't writing about the plot. I wasn't interested in that. I just said, this is how it happened. And his wife cried out there, killing Mr. Watson. And she was up in a store nearby. And then I work around through local voices and local accounts to show or try to show how that happened. The second book is from the point of view of his son. It's called Lost Man's River. That came out last November. And he's—he loved his father.


Watson had three wives and seven kids, all of whom loved him. They all thought he was a great guy. He also had a couple of lady friends whom he had children with. And they all loved him, too. And even the men who shot him down kind of liked him. And they all admitted he was a very able guy. He's supposed to have been the man who killed Belle Starr, the outlaw woman. Probably was. The first book about Belle Starr's death was called Hell on the Border. Sensational title, which I thought of. Hell on the Border. And it says a man named Watson killed her. It doesn't say very much about him. And then it says he was killed in an escape from an Arkansas prison. Not true. He survived and moved to South Florida. And his daughter married the bank president and everything. So it was—it was quite a story. And then the third volume, which I'm just finishing now, will be out next November. I haven't got a title for it yet. But this is Mr. Watson's


own take on the whole story, right up to the point when he knows he's miscalculated, you know. Or not. I'm not sure how that will be quite. But this thing has absorbed me because it's about everything I've always written about. It's about the environment. It's about the Everglades. It's about American Indian people and their battles and real tragedies in the land and so forth. It's about corporations and big government. You know, by a terrific irony, Watson developed a strain of sugarcane on his plantation and he made syrup. And I was told by a very old guy who actually knew him when he was 16 years old. So he remembered him pretty well. Five years after Watson's death, this guy and a friend went up to his place and they took some of the old volunteering cane shoots out of the field. And they ran a whole boatload of that around and up the Caloosahatchee to Lake Okeechobee to Moorhaven. And that became


the seed cane for the great big sugar industry that has virtually destroyed the Everglades. And which is still being subsidized by our politicians and our government to a disgraceful degree. And we pay twice as much for sugar as anybody else. These people are already rich as Greece. Why do we keep subsidizing them? And especially when we could be importing sugar from countries who have a very, very poor trade balance and need that income. Why are we doing this? Instead of that, we sell them weapons and we boycott their sugar. So it's a question. This country, you know, that did the Marshall Plan, which is probably the most generous international act in history. With one hand, we are capable of that. And with the other, we do these. Well, I'm not going to, I promise I will not get up on my soapbox. I was on my soapbox a bit last night. I'll give you a rest from that. How am I doing? Oh, yeah. So I think that brings you a little bit more up to date with Peter Matheson than you probably care for or need.


So I'm going to stop there for the moment and open this up for a while for any questions on anything I've talked about or anything else that I can be helpful with. Did you say that you were Mr. Watson when you were a child? No, I was 17. But when I was 17, all of Watson's children were still living. I know it's very hard for you to believe looking at me, but what happened? I started, oh, I started it, let's see, about 20 years ago, and I'm now 70. So when I was about 50. So for 30 years plus, you thought about it and didn't write about it. That's right. I think a lot of books happen this way. My books do. I'm like, if you can, I always use the analogy of the hen. If you sliced a hen in half and bring the cross section, you know, you would see the fallopian tube going up to the uterus, you know, and you would see


these eggs, bigger and bigger and bigger, coming down to a certain point where the big one is laid, you know. And sometimes you do lay an egg with a book, there's no question about that. And all this time it's growing, it's growing in your mind. It's planted with some little seed. And in Watson's case, I meant the Watson story to be a kind of a wonderful, picturesque thread in a much, much broader book about the environment and so forth. But that thread became kind of a strangler fig. By the time I actually started, it really squeezed the life out of the rest of the book. And that's all in there, but it now comes in through indirection. The real story is Watson. He is the metaphor. He's a metaphor of the frontier. He's that early entrepreneur, capitalist of the kind like Rockefeller and Gould. These people were killers too, but they found their lieutenants to do the dirty work, and they played golf and something. Watson didn't have that luxury. But he's not so different, in my view. Anyway, that's how that began.


Can you all hear the questions in the back? Should I repeat them? Okay, good. The acoustics are good in here. It's interesting. I have not read the Watson books, but it's interesting for me to think of you writing in a naturalistic way about the Everglades when I'm most familiar with your work about the mountains. I wonder if you could comment a little bit about how you approach the environment that you come to write about, and what forms of attention you may use to access it. I mean, how do I choose that environment to write about, or how do I approach it? How do you approach it? Yeah. Well, I do research first. I always research a lot before I go anywhere, because you don't want to walk past something that's there, and then you learn about it after you come home, and especially when you've gone 3,000 miles, or 5,000, or 10,000. So, I do a certain amount of research before I go, and I'm sort of read up. I know kind of


what I'm looking for. Also, I know what attracts me to that place. Philip Roth has a very good analogy for that. He speaks of the magnet, and for the writer, the magnet is what draws you to that idea in the first place. It's what draws you through the writing of the book, and theoretically, it's what draws the reader through, in most cases, too. It's when you lose that sense of that magnet, and you start to wander, is when you have to get out of the book. With books, you know, you're changing all the time. We talked about the river and the constant change. Nothing stays in place long. The book takes on its own life, and it's changing, too, and gradually you're separating, and then you have no magnet. You're wandering around in this material. You're eliminating more corrections the next day than you're keeping. That, for me, is assignment. I'm eliminating more corrections than I keep. I know I've lost the thread, and I've got to get out of that book as soon as possible. As far as method in the field, I have a Peter Matheson patented method I recommend to everybody. I always wear these


big workshirts that have those two big breast pockets, and those pockets are, or should be, they're not, you don't want to look like a kind of dinky shirt. They should be big enough to hold one of those spiral little notepads, you know, about that size. Put it in there. It's sort of somewhat rain resistant, somewhat flexible. That can take a little bit of a beating, and I take notes all day long on some little color, or some little thing, or some sound I hear, or some bird behavior. It can be anything, but something that strikes. I was going to actually talk about this in a separate period. I was going to talk about method and how to approach. I don't want to get too far into that, but I will finish up about the notebook anyway. You just put down little things that strike you that you think you might use, and they're enough to trigger a lot of other memories. You don't need to put everything down. Just shorthand, but in that case, if it is shorthand, write it up at night. Don't wait a week, because you really, I've lost track of my notes, so I don't know what the hell I've said there, you know. At nighttime, write it down in a larger


notebook. I'm talking about if you haven't got a computer. A computer in the field is something pretty new, and I think I'll never go over to it, but I recommend it to you if you're more computer, what's the word, happy than I am. I would always write on the right-hand page only. This is critical. How many people here are interested in writing seriously? I don't mean who are published. How many are interested in writing? Oh, that's good. Great. Well, then you will, I think, be able to put this method to use. Write only on the right-hand page. This is the key to the whole thing. In my early notebooks, I didn't do that, and what happens is that you have related material 18 pages ahead, and you've got to see back, and you've got to count all the pages, and you're just a snarl up, and you go home, you think, God, how am I going to sort this out? If you leave that blank page open, then any material that's related to the material


of that day that's pertinent to it, you can fit right in. And also, maybe there's a research note. Maybe there's a book that you want to refer to. All of that stuff is there, so each topic is all together, and if you do that, and you take pains with it, when you get home, you haven't got a mess of notes. You've got a real first draft. It's a very crude, rough first draft of the book. You've got it, more or less. At least you have it in chronological order, and topic by topic. You may want to, and we'll talk about that later, structure it in a different way, but anyway, you have it, and it's clear. So I think, but I think I'll get off these practical things. Are there any other questions about, yeah? Do you have children and a family, and at what point in your life did you, did, and how did that impact your way of writing in the time you particularly promised? I did have children very early. I, I, I became, I didn't, and I really knew that I probably should not get married. One side of me really didn't want to get


married, and the other side didn't want to lose this beautiful girl, and who in fact, it got such, such a point of stress that I, I made a shambles of my engagement party, and the, and then about a month later the engagement was broken, and I had to kind of patch it together. I don't know that that was a good idea, and then I had two kids pretty early, and then I had to make some money, so I went into fishing, commercial fishing and stuff, but I don't know. I'm not so sure. I think writers and artists generally are not a very stable or dependable group, and Malcolm Cowley, the great critic, wrote a whole book about writers and their writing, and talked about the social life of writers, and you never saw so many mess-ups in your entire life. I mean, they're just a tremendous amount of divorce, depression, alcoholism, suicide, violence, you know, and it's a cautionary, of course none of this is true of me, but I, it's a cautionary book all the same. It's the scale of life out of you hope to be a writer.


So, and, and after, and then I, that marriage did not work in the long run. Then my second wife, and I had a child with her, and I adopted her child by first marriage, so then there were four, and then she died, and, and now I'm married again, and my present wife brought two uh, young daughters to the marriage, so there are, I have this huge family, which I heartily disapprove. After years of having upbraided my sister and brother, my sister had five boys, but kept going because she wanted a girl, so she had six, and my brother did exactly the opposite. He had four girls and kept going because he wanted a boy. I said, why don't you guys swap? I said, there's plenty of, you know, this is a terrible production in a time when we should all be cutting down the number of children. Now I have six myself by, by one way or another. There are certain things you can't help in life. That's karma or fate or something. I was telling Sonja and some people this morning, my, um, I'm sorry to say that my family fortune,


such as it was, was made in whaling. Isn't that awful? My, my forebears were whalers in Denmark. They not only were whalers, but they had a whaling school. They taught whale captains. They were captains up and down the coast, and I hate to think of the sheer tonnage. I had an ancestor who was, who killed 365 whales, and those were, at that time, they were bowhead and right whales, which are two of the most rare now and in trouble, and, um, it's awful, but there it is. So I've been cleaning up after it my whole life, but, um, so that was a very long-winded answer to a good question. Sorry. Where do you live? I live on the end of Long Island, uh, on the, I'm inside of the ocean in potato country there. It's potato country in name only now because suddenly chateaus are climbing to the heavens all around me. They're selling this land. It's on 18 inches of topsoil. It's one of the great loams in the world, and to build these huge houses on it is so nutty. There's plenty of


uplands with scrub oak and pine they could build on, but, um, we're still, unless we still don't get it, we really don't. We're still making these mistakes. I think you said an awful lot last night. Too much, yeah. I'm, um, still digesting it. Um, what I heard is you spoke about facing the shadow, um, that we're all capable in our own way of doing, um, such violence, the violence that you went to do healing around in Auschwitz, um, and it really strikes me that's at the core of, um, the salvation of our species, to look at our shadow. Yeah, I think so. I think so, and don't, um, people say, oh, well, I know there's evil in us. I'm not talking about evil. I wasn't last night talking about evil. I'm talking about the potential of this animal, a behavioral trait of this animal. We don't want to regard


ourselves as animals, but we are, and in every technical way we've gone so far ahead, but we're still capable of this extraordinary violence very quickly. People can turn around, but it's not evil. It's just something we have to take care of. Yeah, yeah. And that's what really appeals and interests me, and I wonder, I feel you have a lot of body there. A lot of what? A lot of material for new work. Right. Well, I think so. I'll tell you, um, this is an interesting question, perhaps we'll have a chance later. You know, a lot of people here probably were not there last night, so we're talking about something that isn't of common reference, so I think maybe I will not comment on last night's talk. Yeah, thanks. I'm curious about how you've experienced and dealt with the enormous amount of ego attachment


that writing successful or unsuccessful seems to engage us in versus practicing non-attachment like a Buddhist? I know, it's an excellent, excellent question. Well, I don't, you know, I can't, I don't even, I can't even defend myself. Greed, anger, and folly have been the earmarks of my life. And still are, fight as I may, you know. Um, well, I don't know. I haven't resolved that any more than I resolve the question of family, the kind of work I do, and the amount of time I'm away. I don't, I don't, I think if there was a scale of credentials you would have to have to be a parent, I probably would fail terribly, miserably. I'm, I'm certainly a responsible parent, but I have not put in the time I would like to. And I'm not, I have not solved all my ego problems, not at all. The only thing is I'm


trying to be, to have the attitude about it that I'm trying to encourage we should have about our potential for violence, not for evil, for violence. Um, and just be open about it and see what happens moment by moment, take care of it moment after moment, which is really our, our practice. You said when you look through your old stories and you're putting together a short story book that there were many that you threw away. Yeah. What would you say, how would you describe your early writing, things that you wished you'd never written, to how you write it now, what, how would you compare them? I think that they were, um, green, that's the only word. They were unformed. You see students who are unformed. You see teachers, alas, who are unformed. Um, and I may very well be one of them, so I speak with all the authority of failure. Um, but I think everybody, almost every writer, nobody starts out writing at their full capacity.


They don't know what they're doing. You don't, you don't go up to the top of the ski lift and ski down and, you know, at the very first start, you make a lot of mistakes. You go off at angles, you pratfalls. And I think we all do it. I was very relieved in a way to hear that Dostoevsky, who's a writer I revere, uh, he lost two big suitcases full of, uh, early drafts, unpublished work in the Marseilles railroad station. And to think that Dostoevsky could have two suitcases full of, that's a lot of work, but he didn't ever publish or write, or, or, you know, or succeed with. And, um, that I think is the case. I think writers write. Any writer who isn't writing isn't really a writer. I don't, and it doesn't matter whether you're published or not. Writers write. That's the nature of the, of the thing. And, uh, and they'll write badly and they should have the sense to recognize that. Mr. Hemingway, who's a man whose life I didn't very much admire, but I have to say he did know the trade of writing and he


always spoke of the bullshit detector. You have to develop that bullshit detector. And if you haven't got it, you better find a few readers, your wife or your husband or somebody who have got it, because we all tend to, we tend to sentimentalize and we go off on this thing or this tangent or the other, and you finally get much tougher on your stuff. Now I could have edited those stories maybe and brought them into shape. Some of the ideas were good. They had parts of them that were okay, but the overall was ineffectual. I hadn't learned my trade. That's really what it was. I just hadn't learned. And, uh, and that, including the fact that you have to do, at least I do, have to write many drafts. Uh, there's a last chapter of this novel called I Play in the Fields of the Lord about a solitary river trip this man takes. And I know I rewrote that entirely at least 30 times, and I still didn't get it the way I wanted it. And I rather, that made me rather suspect that, uh, you know, that old, I've forgotten who said it, you know,


a work of art is never finished, but simply abandoned. That's that old cliche. Well, it's absolutely true. There's no truer thing has ever been said. You abandon it because if you think it's perfect, you're already in very serious trouble, not just with ego. It means you've really missed because any work you go to, you start with this extraordinarily beautiful thing in your head. You see something and you're strained to find words to put this down. Uh, and it just never comes out, I don't think, the way that you can just come as close as you possibly can with integrity, and then you have to walk away from it and go on to the next thing. Um, I, I've just come back from, I, I was a co-leader on a, a bird show. We took a lot of people to Antarctica for seabirds and albatross and penguins and stuff, whales. Wonderful. But I was stunned by Antarctica. I, it was so far exceeded my imagination. I had no idea it was


the highest continent on earth. I had no idea that there were icebergs floating around. There's one in 1968 that was as big as Belgium, but you see them commonly. You see them four or five huge city blocks long and several hundred feet high. These amazing colors. Well, I kept looking at my notebook and it says, beautiful, awesome. I was left speechless and maybe that's as it should be. I mean, Zen teaches that, doesn't it? We, we, we, we learned to be very, very suspicious of, uh, of words. And there were simply, I will find some, but I realized I've got to really crack my head and try to find a way, a fresh new way of saying how extraordinarily beautiful this landscape was and mysterious, strange, you know. There's a great story. My first teacher was a Rinzai master, Soen Roshi. And he, there's a great story about, I think it was about Soen Roshi.


Somebody had a Kensho, an opening in the, in the Zendo, some young monk. And to celebrate, Roshi took him up Mount Fuji, his, his monastery right in the foothills of Mount Fuji. And this guy was really open to the world. I mean, he was seeing everything for the first time and he just couldn't believe it. You know, he'd taken for granted before. And this is, of course, is the nature of Kensho is kind of unfolding and opening up. So he was, he was, you know, embracing trees. Roshi, look at this tree, look at the way, and you see that bird, that bird, you know, and old Roshi is still just trudging up the mountain, not saying a word, just grunting with, you know, displeasure. And, uh, and as this guy went up, he got more and more rapturous. He said, oh, the blue sky, the clouds, the way they pass the snow peak. Ah, the volcano. Do you realize that that fire is coming up from there? Do you see that? And not until the top of the mountain does


this idiot recognize or perceive that the Roshi has not said one single word. He said nothing. He just grunt impatiently and keep on trudging. And finally, he gets up to the top of the mountain on the snow cap and he says, but Roshi, I've been trying to show you all these things. He said, I mean, it's so beautiful and so wonderful. Don't you agree? And he said, yes, but what a pity to say so. Well, writers unfortunately have to, have to say so. And we, and we teach people to be very suspicious of the golden thorns, even the Buddha's words. We have to be very careful about words and yet we transgress. I think I'm going to check with Norman. I'm not going to put him on the spot here, but I think anybody who's ever given Dharma talk in Taisho, uh, I always have a real feeling. I


mean, you're trying to strike sparks. I know that, but finally you've gotten kind of gag on the words because you're only really, in my view, you're really over and over again. You're teaching that lotus being held up. You're teaching Master Gutei and the finger. You're teaching this moment and all the miracle and all the mystery arises out of this moment, paying attention to this moment. Everything kind of comes out. Well, Master Gutei had it right. He just placed his finger. I wish we could do that. I wish you could write a book that way. It will save me 20 years on this. On my Watson trilogy, my editor has been heard to say, isn't Mr. Watson dead yet? Well, needless to say, I got rid of him as an editor. Um, where are we going with time? Let's see. What have I got down here? Um, oh yeah, well, so we have 15 more minutes before the break and we're going to sit before


lunch. So if you want to, if there are other questions, otherwise we can sit. It was somewhat, I think all novels are somewhat autobiographical and in fact, I really think you can carry it further than that. I think if the writer has really done his homework and understood that all the writers, male and female, have some aspect of a writer, you have to get into that common humanity. And you have to, if you have, if I have female characters, I have to understand something. I'm sure this would be disfusion, but, um, but, uh, nonetheless, I feel that is so, so that, that novel and really all of them, um, have something of me in there and the characters, of course, Raditzer was very briefly, it was about


a young guy who was in the Navy and he's on a, on a troop ship going out of Pearl Harbor. I mean, out of Treasure Island, which I did. I went out under the Golden Gate and it's a terrible storm at sea and they're at sea at which we were 12 days in a storm. And Raditzer is based on the guy, I had the bow watch. I was probably one of four men on a whole ship who didn't get seasick. And I had the bow watch, was probably the one place on the boat where you wouldn't get seasick because it was a wind and fresh air and water bursting over you at all times. And, um, the bunks below and all of these holes and the sleeping compartments and stuff were, the bunks were four feet deep and they were being sick in the top bunk. And you can imagine what it was like down there. It was a hell. The guy who came to replace, who was supposed to replace me never appeared. He was seasick as hell. But one night, about three nights out, and I've been doing standing watch all night long because he never showed up. There was a pathetic clawing at this metal door on the


top of the hatch. And I finally heard it over the howling gale and bashing seas. And I saw great, the bar, you know, and I swung this gate open and there was a guy, a little white, ferret-like face on the top, on the top shelf, green in color. And with the sort of inspiration of that door coming open, he vomited. And that stuck in my brain, stuck to my shoes too. But anyway, somehow this guy coming up from the depths, it was a, it was a metaphor that it interested me. And this guy in the book adopts this man, even though the rest of the crew despise him, because he turns out to be a user, a manipulator, self-pitying, but always with an angle and always working. And it truly, as we say, we don't make discriminations, you know, in our practice, but this was a truly lonesome specimen of human being. And to show you that, should we, do we


take care of these peoples? Because this guy, this young guy, Raditzer, he comes from a background and a pathetic sort of homeless, no parents and orphanages and all that kind of thing, for which we really are partly responsible. And this young, the hero, the protagonist, tries to stand up for him against the hatred and of the other men for him, because they know he's loathsome. And he does it even when Raditzer sort of betrays him. I don't know, it was a, that was my third novel. That was the first one that I thought showed signs of a little hope. And I don't know how I, I don't know if that answers your question or not. Yeah, okay. Could you speak a little more about the student-teacher relationship you had with Sohn-Roshi? Student-teacher relationship? Sohn-Roshi, as you know, was, you know, he was sort of a troubled man and, and rather eccentric. In fact, he's, as Tetsuken says, he's one of the last great,


crazy, crazy wisdom teachers. He was, his teaching methods were unorthodox, to put it mildly. And he was extremely funny. He was a clown. He would even bring out masks during taisho, talk, and put on different masks. He had all sorts of unorthodox methods. I'll just tell you one, one time for Daisan, which, as you know, if you're not a Zen person, I'll tell you, is confrontation or meeting with the teacher. And you go up there, and usually if you're, if you're really sitting strongly, well, it's kind of a nervous, you know, you're either presenting a koan or you're doing something, but it's usually a little bit scary, I think, if you're where you should be. And Roshi's usually, you know, not showing you much expression, eyes down, you know, and you come in and you do your vows. Well, Sohn-Roshi was passionate about what he called the stink of Zen. He hated self-conscious spirituality. He loathed it. He was always yelling at us. Don't you realize there are people walking by, passed out in the


street who don't need this. Don't get your, don't have such, I don't know. Well, one time, and he would hang out his dirty laundry out in the rock garden where you had to see it as you're doing kinhing, you know, just to shake you up, just to do this. Well, one time he had this true, this is a man who he took LSD just because he wanted to see and he found it was nothing. He was always being found at four o'clock in the morning on the children's horses in the merry-go-round, you know, that was down the street. On this occasion, we went up and we're in the New York Studies, Zen Studies Society. You ran up three flights of stairs and Rinzai practice, you're almost supposed to knock people down no matter how much older they were than you. You were supposed to show this zeal, so you'd hear people pounding up the stairs, you know, and the more macho they were, the more they pounded. And then they would bow, full bow in the doorway, and they would stand up and do a standing bow to the Roshi. And on this occasion, they looked up and it wasn't the Roshi on the cushion, it was a huge pumpkin. And the Roshi was behind the door. And it immediately gave you


the bell. And some silly fools got hurt feelings that they'd had their dignity hurt, and they were sent down the stairs. And we couldn't understand, we were pounding up, there's a stream going down. There are great, oh, there's many, many, some Roshi's stories. He was a wonderful teacher. At that time, you were playing that book, The Tree Where Man Was Born. Can you talk about that? Nine-Headed Dragon River was later. I didn't start that, really, until when Maezumi Roshi asked me to go east, I was in the east anyway, but he had, the Tetsugan was going east, and he asked me to help him, you know, start a monastery back there. So I know, and I know that was 1980, and I know that we needed money, and that's why I put that book together. The Tree Where Man Was Born, I started in 1969 or 70. So there was quite a


different time there. Oh, yeah, because I used early Zen journals, I used all sorts of stuff. I put some of this, I put the purely Buddhist material from the Snow Leopard, I put in there, too. And then I put in a pilgrimage that I did with Tetsugan to Japan, where we went to all the monasteries and all the shrines of Sōtō. And we also, I'm happy to say, stopped off and saw Son Roshi, who hadn't seen anybody for years, and we were very happy to see him again. It was wonderful. But that's how that happened. Yeah. I'm very interested in your talking about doing research for some of your books, and I'm wondering what kind of practice does that involve? What sort of practice that was? Research. A research practice. Well, the research itself, generally speaking, if you're interested in that subject, you probably


already have read quite a lot. In other words, you're at least semi-well informed before you start. And there are always bibliographies in the backs of those books, and you find other reference works, and you talk to people who know about it. It's not hard to pull together a reading list, and you can do that for quite a long time before you go. Not that you have to go anywhere. You remember what Dogen Zenji said about, do not travel off to dusty lands, to whatever, but to stay at home. And then he says, do not be afraid of the true dragon. In other words, do not look outside for the true dragon. That isn't necessary. You may do your research right at home and stay there to write. That's good, too. It's the same method. Just don't use those big shirts and stuff. Do you ever have a problem, though, where you stop researching and when you start writing? Oh, boy. Do you ever? It's a wonder. I have a book at home. It's a natural history book,


and a 19th century researcher and wildlife expert called Elliot Cowes, and he writes about the bibliographers, the dipsomania of bibliography. And you see somebody who's really not wanting to write the book, they will research forever. And then you have this enormous amount of material. At a certain point, you have to start writing, even if you're still researching. That can be a tremendous trap, research. It really can. You will almost always find the key things. People will mention them or whatever. But research, you can just get more and [...] never write the book. I have a tremendous amount of research on Sasquatch. Okay, last question. Can you say something about the difference between writing autobiographical fiction and memoir? Autobiographical fiction or memoir? Well, as Lillian Hellman and many others have taught us,


a lot of memoir is fiction. So the line is very, very fine indeed. Autobiographical memoir Yeah, I don't know. We're getting into that tricky area of the so-called nonfiction novel, you know, that Truman Capote thought he developed. And it's true that some books are. They are really, you can form them as a novel, even though they're based on truth. I like two of my own books I prefer over others just for that reason, because they weren't novels. One was The Snow Leopard. And one was a book about the New Guinea people called Under the Mountain Wall. And there, I could tell a story unimpeded by, you know, it was just a wonderful, I realized in both cases, I remember saying to George Schaller, who was my partner on The Snow Leopard, I said to him about three weeks in, I said, if I can't make a good book out of this, I ought to be taken out and


whipped. And I really meant that. I knew it was just a natural, and because it really was a story going back against the seasons, going every 20 miles we went north, we went 40 miles back in time, 40 years back in time, until finally where we ended up, we were in the 13th century. And that whole sense of time in reverse, it was just astonishing. These cultures went after each valley. People went back 20 or 30 years in time. Did you ever see The Snow Leopard? I did not. Furthermore, I went there again in 1995, and I failed again. And The Snow Leopard just came right down into our camp. They killed two goats. Not into our camp, but into this nomad camp up the valley. Well, he ate the goats. I saw the tracks. The Snow Leopard saw me, and I heard it. I didn't see it. Did you see the 13th century? Yeah. In 1995? Indeed. We went off the permitted trail, and we were on horseback, and so we could cover more


ground, and we went way up into northeastern low, up on the Tibetan border there. And we found people there that was amazing. They had never seen anything like us, and we'd never seen anything like them. It was terrific. We're going to take a break for 15 minutes, and then we'll reconvene.