Nov 262012

Abiding Nowhere Press fills a niche for authors on Whidbey Island who want to accompany each other on their journey of writing, editing, publishing and publicizing their work. The newest member to our group is Jeanne Strong, who has just completed her book, Speak Up for a Child.

We hope you enjoy reading excerpts from our books on this site. Please feel free to post your comments.

Curious about where our name Abiding Nowhere comes from?

Aug 072012

I’m looking for a design for my Enso House book, and I heard about the concept of “crowd sourcing” in which a request for a design, including a “prize” offer can be submitted to a website and then dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of designers, or “creatives” can take a look and choose to submit a design in hopes of winning the prize. It sounded like a good way to get a variety of new ideas, so I decided to give it a try.

This afternoon, I went to www.designcontest.com, created an account and uploaded a description of the book and my ideas of the kind of graphic design I was looking for and made an offer. The designers are from places all around the world– Indonesia, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Romania, France, the US. The contest goes for 7 days. I submitted my request at 2:00 pm. It will be interesting to see what turns up over the coming days.

Aug 012012

I was excited to receive Cynthia Trenshaw’s author bio, photo and excerpt from her book which I had requested so I could start adding material to our new website. I uploaded her new photo, inserted shorter and longer versions of her biography into corresponding web pages, quickly scanned over the excerpt from her book and added it to the site. I didn’t read the excerpt carefully, but it clearly made a subconscious impact on me. I closed down my computer and went to bed. Then around 2:30 am, I awoke in a cold sweat.

I needed to read Cynthia’s Reciprocal Touch more carefully.

Holy moly, it was a well crafted! Exceptionally rich in imagery, it was subtle but had profound spiritual meaning. The high quality was staggering; the years that Cynthia has spent writing and rewriting her stories, the endless hours she has spent with writing coaches and the painful process of throwing away lesser quality writing has really paid off. I was deeply humbled.

So is my own writing gong to be any match for this? While my own current draft has a few nice paragraphs, a considerable amount is repetitive, impersonal and boring. My sheets are damp with perspiration. I have been lying awake for nearly an hour, so I decide I better get up and sit zazen to try to settle my mind.

I feel better and think, well, why am I in such a rush? Do I really need to stick to my arbitrary deadline of November 30th? If the quality I want to achieve is not there yet, maybe it would be a mistake to release the book prematurely. On the other hand, having a deadline is a good motivator to focus my energy. Maybe I should reset the publication date to sometime in February, say the 13th (a Wednesday). That way, my wife and I can have a relaxing Valentine’s Day dinner together and toast the release of the book.

I’ll wait to decide until after our next publishing meeting on the 15th of this month.

Jul 272012

Excerpt from the chapter, Commitment, about “Chisan,” a Zen teacher intimately connected with the establishment of Enso House:

Priscilla Storandt (later “Chisan”) developed an interest in meditation at a young age. One day she was sitting very still in her room at home when her mother came in and said, “Priscilla! Stop that at once! You’re weirding me out!”

Despite her mother’s misgivings, Priscilla continued to explore the practice of meditation into her adult years. At the age of nineteen, she read a book about Zen and was intrigued by the connection between Zen and pottery in Japan. The connection felt like a mystery: how was meditation practice related to the stunningly beautiful Japanese tea bowls she had seen?

While in her mid-twenties, a plan began to take shape. She would go to Japan and learn all about oriental art and pottery—how to make vases, tea bowls, and tea ceremony water jars. Maybe she could also find a Zen master who would explain the connection between Zen and pottery. She figured it would take about two months, and then she would return to the States.

On her way to Japan, she stopped in Seattle, where a friend told her, “Go to Takayama. It was my favorite place in Japan.” It hadn’t occurred to her to establish some contacts in Japan before leaving. On her way to Takayama, she arrived in Kyoto, not knowing a single person and not speaking a word of Japanese.

At a bank in Kyoto, she tried to change some dollars into yen. Standing next to her was a Frenchman who spoke some Japanese and offered to help her. She knew more words in French than Japanese, and from their conversation, he figured that she must be a potter. He lit up when he learned that she was going to Takayama and said that he was on his way there too. In fact, he knew a potter there he could introduce her to.

The potter in Takayama had pottery students, and he also made teacups to sell to tourists. He thought he could use an assistant over the summer to help him make his production of one thousand teacups a week. He assumed that Priscilla was an experienced potter, so to confirm she had the skills he needed, he asked her to please make a teacup.

Undaunted, she fashioned something that looked more like a toilet bowl than something you would drink out of. Then he asked her to make a smaller teacup, and she produced a smaller toilet bowl. He must have been thinking, “Oh my god! There is no polite way out of this!” So he deferred to his father. His father studied Priscilla’s hands closely and grunted affirmatively.

Chisan remembers,

“That was the end of that. So for the rest of my time in Takayama, I was a pottery apprentice to this potter. He did teach me—bless his heart. I went through the winter and summer with no Japanese, and he spoke no English. I received ten thousand yen from him and a place to live. So it all worked out fine.”

Priscilla also sought out Zen in the town where she had landed. She found that there was a family temple there and a priest who sat zazen every morning. She started to go there and join the priest for meditation. But she wasn’t accustomed to the Japanese value of strict punctuality, so she would sometimes start work at 8:30, sometimes 9:00 or 9:30. When the priest learned of this, he gave Priscilla some fatherly advice.

“He said to me, ‘You can’t do two things at once. You either have to do pottery or zazen. Make your choice.’ But I was pretty sure I had to do two things at once. Doing zazen was more and more important to me. I really felt a deep conflict. I felt that in order to do pottery, I would have to do zazen. They were not separate. Pottery to me was my original meditation in action.”

Finally the priest suggested that she meet another Zen priest who spoke some English. She could meet him in Hokkaido, where he was going to open a new hondo, a Japanese hall of worship, at a Zen temple there. Priscilla would need to take leave from her apprentice job to attend the ceremony. Her pottery teacher assented and wished her the best.

She arrived at the temple in Hokkaido. In the hondo, there were long rows of Zen priests sitting on either side in dark robes. True to form, Priscilla was wearing a long skirt, a colorful bandana, and pigtails. The staid quality of a Japanese Zen temple met the bold energy of a young, exuberant American woman. Suddenly someone came up to her and said, “Take off your bandana.” They handed her a slip of paper and said, “Write your name on the paper and put it on the tray.”

At the far end of the hall, she saw a tiny man with a white beard perched on a huge cushion. He would have a major influence on her life. Before the ceremony started, Priscilla got the opportunity to ask her question about Zen and pottery. Even though the roshi was able to speak some English, he didn’t understand a word of what she was saying. So another person helped translate and explained how she had come to Japan to do pottery, but in order to do pottery, she wanted to do Zen. She felt that pottery was an expression of her Zen. Could he help her understand the connection?

He thought for a moment and then said, “Pottery—Zen: one path.”

At the dedication ceremony, Priscilla was in tears. She remembers,

“My life had just changed in every direction, and I couldn’t breathe. I had discovered what I had come to Japan for, but I didn’t know it would actually happen.”

After the ceremony she was introduced to the roshi: Yamada Mumon, head of the Myoshinji temple, the center of Rinzai Zen Buddhism in Japan, and president of Hanazono University.

Jul 262012

Excerpt from the chapter, Commitment, relating experiences of Dr. Ann Cutcher, currently Medical Director of Enso House:

For Ann it was time to do something she had always wanted to do but had never found the opportunity—to go to a remote part of the world to practice medicine. She went to the Catholic Medical Mission Board in New York City and explained that she was a doctor and wanted to volunteer somewhere. A woman at the desk handed her a stack of folders about a foot high and said, “See what you think about any of these.”

Ann started thumbing through the folders, and one folder caught her attention: “Sisters of St. Ann.” What could be more fortuitous? Without any other criteria in mind, Ann decided to pick her namesake. “I’ll go there,” she said.

Before long she arrived in the port city of Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu, the southernmost part of India, south of Chennai. “I was terrified. I was scared. The chaos was overwhelming. I was sure there was a catastrophe just waiting to happen.” To get to work, she had to walk over a river of excrement—she feared that when it rained she might slip right into it. Typhoid and cholera were rampant, and there were practically no medical supplies. Ann found herself suturing wounds while using no anesthesia at all.

In retrospect, Ann says, “It was great for me. I had no idea what an afraid person I was. I really didn’t know that fear was such a big thing in my life.” She remembers feeling desperate to leave, spending over a month fruitlessly trying to figure out a way to get out of Tuticorin. The telephones didn’t work. There were no computers or Internet, and there were no travel agents, so she couldn’t change her return ticket. Eventually, when she realized how futile it was to try to escape, her attitude changed, and she began settling in to just do what the situation required her to do. By the time she left, she felt that India was the only place she really wanted to return.

Before leaving India, Ann decided to travel to Calcutta and see the work of Mother Theresa and the Sisters of Charity. There she worked in a hospice, but she felt that her high-tech Western medical training had little relevance. It seemed that anyone with a high school education and the right commitment would be able to serve just as well. Her most important lesson was that committed people can manage with nothing but the barest of supplies.

The hospice was a gigantic room filled with cots butting up one against the other—a person could hardly walk between them. Some people were bringing food to the patients; others were assisting them to walk to where the food was served. Other volunteers were gathering loads of dirty laundry, stomping on them in the clothes washing area, or hauling the rinsed clothes up to the roof to dry.

Ann remembers sitting next to a blind woman, having no idea what she could do for this woman, thinking to herself, “This is ridiculous—I cannot speak Hindi or Bengali, so I cannot talk to her. Why am I here?” But then it suddenly occurred to her: she could sing. So she simply sang a song her mother had taught her when she was a little girl. “Chicory chi…What shall we be?” And the blind woman immediately connected—a bright smile beamed across her face, and she joined Ann in singing.