Interview with JJ Wilson
(one of these Js is for Janice but she told me she doesn't use it)
transcribed by Elizabeth Tuomi
Interviewed by DC sometime in the mid nineties at a woman's center she'd started at Sonoma State University where she was head of women's studies or something like that. JJ was married to Phillip Wilson back in the early ZC days. Phillip died in July of 2007. JJ said she will have more to add to what we've got to her and him. - DC, 1-05-08
Phillip Wilson Main Page with links to interview, Crooked Cucumber excerpts, comments by others, and photos
JJ: [tape begins] …but it was about Phillip Wilson. It was when we were living on Bush in those communes. I'm going to tell the first story. Two things to start with.
My deal with Reverend Suzuki was, man, I think you're adorable. You may even be divine. But as to this outfit you're running, it's not my thing. I'm hoping that I don't find a safe trip over my ultimate vision or quest. Whatever it is. Everybody else was there on a spiritual quest. They had a beautiful hunger for enlightenment. And I was busily running the other way. I didn't want the kinds of changes that would happen in my life and in my class origins and politics and ambitions for the future and visions of myself that I felt would have to happen if I by mistake got enlightened. Just by being contaminated by [the students there] and by Reverend Suzuki.
I was Zen by marriage. And Reverend Suzuki totally understood that stand. Many people in Zen Center thought less of me and understandably so because of my trivial nature and light-mindedness and secularism and materialism. They didn't go for it. But Reverend Suzuki accepted me as I was, and did I ever appreciate that. My big job at the time was to work on my PhD thesis. I just had to get the darned thing finished.
When I would wake up in the morning my job was to go to my desk. That was understood by everyone. And work. This was on Bush Street. I would get up when everyone else did. But I would do my work. And every once in a while, just by peer pressure or some kind of unwillingness to face my typewriter, I would wander over to Zen Center and sit in the zendo. And Reverend Suzuki would invariably come up and tap me on the shoulder, wrinkle his forehead, point across the street, ask me why I wasn't over there doing my work, my meditation - writing the thesis. Mainly, because of Reverend Suzuki, and Phillip's total support, and a wonderful team from the Zen Center, of four typists who came and typed it all, with the money going to the Zen Center – they did it for the Zen Center. Wasn't that wonderful? I paid them, but instead I paid the Zen Center, they [the typists] accepted no money. They were wonderful. They were totally professional. My thesis got finished. It was a big deal. I borrowed a truck. I drove across the Bay Bridge, singing with the radio up loud. I felt the way people do when they finish a sesshin. It was just a wonderful feeling. I took it in in a supermarket basket because it was so heavy. I handed it in. On my way back I was singing again, and suddenly I realized, I didn't finish that thesis. Reverend Suzuki finished that thesis. Phillip Wilson finished it. My wonderful team of typists finished it. Oh, well, it was fun while it lasted, that moment of exaltation. That was as close as I ever came to enlightenment.
DC: That's a classical Buddhist story. Realizing interdependence. Relativity.
JJ: As a joy. It's fun to share that. The bad stuff as well as the good.
DC: That's what emptiness is. It's not annihilation. It's relativity.
JJ: As we sit here in this room and I reflect on my life, you will know that emptiness is not my forte, dearie.
As we were living there one of the things I had to get used to, and it was so hard, was that the lessons you don't choose to learn are the best ones for you. I would never have gotten mixed up with Zen Center if it hadn't been for Phillip. And it was my conviction that we ought to cleave onto one another. It was marvelous. I got to meet you. I got to meet Reverend Suzuki. I got to meet everybody in a different way. The trick of it, for me, was the living arrangements. We lived in one room. Phillip built me a beautiful desk. Part of it is still in the sitting room. I wanted it to be here. I thought it was a wonderful thing to remember - that you can work in one room. It's like a prison. It had one window that looked out onto another wall. Like any prisoner I came to appreciate in that room where I was writing my thesis the way the light ran. They talk now, it's a fad to get simple. Zen Center was doing that long before.
I had to get used to not having control of my own kitchen. And the thought that I had when I was driving back from Berkeley was that it was very hard for all of us. We tried to learn how to do it. But I notice that none of us are living collectively now. Yvonne's not. You're not. I'm not. Phillip's not.
DC: Bill Kwong is, sort of.
JJ: Oh, poor man. Yes. When I first met him he wasn't.
DC: Mel. Sort of. But again, they both have their own homes. But they're adjoined to groups.
JJ: They're on the payroll too. But we wouldn't if we didn't have to, apparently. What happened was, I caught on, suddenly, that I didn't have to cook recipes that were my own family recipes, that were in the part of my tradition. That I was being asked to enter another culture. It was the brown rice/vegetable culture. Every day you could eat that. And it was alright. Cause we had different days when we cooked. I don't know if you ever lived there, but there were seven of us and each of us cooked and Monday we didn't cook, or something. It all worked out. But the day that I cooked it was so tempting to dash out and buy lasagna so I could fix lasagna or something and there wasn't any lasagna on the pantry. I learned eventually to put aside that part of me which is so much my ego in my cooking. My giving of myself in my cooking. And just to cook what was appropriate for that lifestyle. I also found that I was relieved not to be eating that differently from the other world, the third world. That it was a relief to know that I wasn't having that much privilege in my food. By choice, but not exactly choice. I hadn't exactly chosen it, but I ended up there. I loved cleaning the toilet for others, or my day to clean the stairs. I really loved that sharing of the housework and the cooking. It was wonderful for me. And I loved my room.
So here I am [there I was], happily adjusting to communal life, cause I'm an adjustor. Phillip is miserable. It was not his way of living. He felt with his sensitivity the exacerbation of everybody's personalities. Every one of whom I thought were marvelous.
At one point the difficulties of living communally got so great that we had to have a general meeting. We had to invite Reverend Suzuki. I don't know what year it was. I'll figure it out though.
DC: Also tell me landmarks. What was happening.
JJ: It must have been the first year of those three houses. Could be '66. Yeah, cause my thesis was finished.
DC: You finished your thesis in '67. Cause you were at Tassajara in the summer working on it in '67. Did you finish that year?
JJ: No it took me another year. '68. When I finished it was when I was living up there. When I was at Tassajara I was still teaching at Smith and I was just there for the summer.
DC: Was this after you'd been at Tassajara? Maybe those houses didn't get going until '67. As a result of Tassajara. There had been some people living in them.
JJ: Phillip and I lived in a house, apartment, at Laguna and Bush, on the third floor. It was cold. We used to have Reverend Suzuki over, and I'd forgotten this - this is so bad of me. I fixed him a roast beef sandwich. Thinly cut roast beef. With little thin cucumbers in it. And Reverend Suzuki ate it all and said the cucumbers were really a nice touch. Can you imagine? He liked to come over and drink my coffee, too. All my bad retro things. He was very nice in sharing them so that I didn't feel guilty. Or whatever. Maybe he liked - I don't know why he did things, you can't tell.
I've got to finish [talking about] everybody sitting around here for this big collective meeting. We were trying to figure out why it was so hard to live collectively. It was just grossing everybody out. The way we did that, as you know, was to complain a lot, and then Quaker meeting style, sit there on our fannies, most uncomfortably, for a very long time in silence. Which was also not my style.
DC: You're saying that people would just be sort of quiet?
JJ: Zazen. We sat really quiet. It felt like zazen to me. And it was a long silence. Broken eventually by Reverend Suzuki. And I remember my heart rising up. The reason nobody talked is nobody had a solution, I think. So I thought, oh, Reverend Suzuki's going to solve it.
DC: What was the problem?
JJ: That was what he was trying to establish.
His first word, after this 40 minute silence, was, "Tell me this. Is there in your kitchen a place designated for cups, and a place designated for plates, so that it is always in the same place?"
We all looked at each other. A bunch of hippies. No, we weren't living that way, Reverend Suzuki. We were at the point of saying whoever leaves these dishes in the sink we're going to kill him. So we put a person hiding in the closet. And we watched. Perfect Zen story. It was all of us. Every one of us would come in and have a little cup of coffee, throw the spoon in the sink, and run away. And by the end of the day there was a horrible sink-full of dishes. And Reverend Suzuki - it seemed to me at the time the most simple-minded question to ask.
After we thought that it was going to be some huge, karmic horror. We thought it was because we were Americans. We thought it was for many reasons. But what it was, was that we had not realized that you need what Dick Baker used to call habit energy. We needed to have a form, a ritual, a place for things. Where everyone who came in to cook would not have to hunt all over the kitchen for the frying pan. He was right. We needed to have a lot more organization that was agreed upon. We started doing that and the problems went away. Goddamned miracle.
I was full of civil rights energy in those days, as I am feminist energy now. I was raving to him about equal rights and all this. And he said, "JJ, in the United States you take all your food on one plate and you cover it with ketchup and you call that equality. In Japan we put each dish on a plate that perfectly suits it and brings out its essential nature and is pretty. And we call that quality." I was too busy arguing at the time to realize that he had caught on to what we now call the joys of diversity. Separate in our own culture, but joining together for celebrating. But I was so into integration and assimilation, and things which we now understand are not appropriate to the American dream or to the individual. Reverend Suzuki, coming from a different culture, and coming from his wonderful ease of mind, knew that my partisan passion to rebalance, redress my southern heritage by equality, was not going to be the final answer. And he told it to me in such a beautiful -- using food, which he knew was my fate. And that was so nice of him. I'm sorry that it took me so long to get it. I did finally get it. But I wasn't able to concede that to him.
Another example of his genius. I'm going to give you two more examples of his genius, and one example of his beauty. Then I'm going to quit, I think.
We were working with a Native American woman. I won't give her name because it's very personal. She was one of Phillip's wonderful finds. He would bring in the homeless -- She got pregnant. She was having a lot of trouble. I was designated to find the place for her to go to have that baby. But not keep it, because she was so young and so disorganized. Reverend Suzuki and I were working together on this. At one point I said, "Reverend Suzuki, the most amazing thing has happened. I thought I had to do all this work. The other day she called her tribe in Arizona. They have a special fund for Indians who come to the urban area and have babies. We're off the hook. It's gonna work. I know just what to do now." And Reverend Suzuki said, "Oh. No one told me she was Indian. I felt there was something different about her mind." He had sat with her and talked with her. And he had sensed that she was not like us. That she had a different mind set. That fascinated me. We had none of us got around to telling him until that moment that she was Native American. But he had known well that there was something different about the way her mind worked. He was right.
Another time he was right was much more gratifying to me, personally. He came to the end of the steps. You remember those long steps that went up in the houses. He was trying to get Phillip to do something that was part of the Zen expectations for Phillip. Job description at that time. Phillip was not going to do it. He was dragging his heels, or saying no, or something. I was listening to this all from my desk in our room. Reverend Suzuki, very calm, insistent voice, and Phillip's negative responses. Finally I heard Reverend Suzuki say the words which I had never said myself, but I had often thought, "Phillip Wilson, you are impossible." And he turned and went away. At that point I decided, alright. If Reverend Suzuki can't work with him, I can't either, and I don't even feel bad about it. He has been declared impossible, and I can relax and get out of it now. I really did decide right about then, I think, that I would split up with Phillip eventually. Until then I had thought it was my fault.
DC: With all that Virginia Woolf.
JJ: I wasn't getting it at the time. I didn't do my thesis on Virginia Woolf's feminism. I did it on her style. And I didn't get it. I need support of a whole village and nation to get things -- you're ahead of your time, David, but I'm not. My thesis had four pages on Virginia Woolf's feminism out of 485. And they were the most [?] written, because I was so afraid that would bore people. I was pre-feminist when that came out.
So Phillip was impossible. Signed, sealed, and delivered by Reverend Suzuki. I'm sure he may have regretted having said that. He may have regretted my hearing it. But for me it was a watershed. Wonderful. And he didn't know I was there. It was between the two of them. I took perhaps unwarranted comfort in that statement.
The other thing that I was going to mention. Two signs of his brilliance. One was the quality/equality part. And his knowing about the Native Americans. These are things that only I got to see. I got to see him deciding that cucumbers went well to refresh the meat taste of roast beef.
Here was one lovely story. Reverend Suzuki at one point gave me a present of a darling little paper tiger, or something. And did he get in a shit-load of trouble. Mrs. Suzuki had given it to him. And she was furious that he would have given it away. She had that capacity. She insisted that he come over and reclaim it. Can you imagine him doing that? He was humiliated. I gave it up. Phillip found me another one and I still have it as an example that I relinquished the one of Reverend Suzuki's so that he could get in good with Mrs. Suzuki again. Isn't that something? And she was right. You can't give away a gift that someone has given you. Reverend Suzuki sometimes got too full of himself. He thought he could do anything. Because we all treated him like a god.
The other cute thing was we had Ed down there at Tassajara, cooking up a storm. We had a birthday party for Reverend Suzuki. Or some excuse for a party. Ed made a Viennese torte that would later make his fame and fortune because of his wonderful cooking. We gathered in Reverend Suzuki's beautiful little cottage at Tassajara. We ate it. The next day I said something to Reverend Suzuki about wasn't that amazing last night, there was so much. And Reverend Suzuki said, "Too much, too much of everything for me." Probably his stomach which was later, trouble to him. He hadn't reacted well. From such a simple diet to suddenly having a Viennese torte. Too lavish and decadent. We began calling it the Tassajara Hilton for awhile. Ed was getting cooking fever. It was good that got separated down to Greens. Too fancy for us. This was not a policy statement, it was a reaction that he had. That was inappropriate to our life there. It made him feel weird. I accepted that. And realized that we were often pushing things.
While we're talking about Tassajara -- and this is I suppose my last big thing. Down at the baths one night on our side. They had separated men from women at that point. Somehow or another I came around the corner and Reverend Suzuki was standing there totally nude in the moonlight. Flexing himself. Yummy. There he was the most sexy and beautiful man I had ever laid my eyes on. I think people underestimated his fabulous animal beauty and perfection. It was in my eyes. But I felt a little of it might have come from him. It's a long time ago, but I still remember it. It was a perfection of humanity. And masculine energy too at that moment that was coming out of him. He was standing in the baths. Somehow or another the angle that I took I saw him. I wasn't peeking. I was coming over to the baths myself and as I came around the corner to get out or something, there was a little bridge. He was something. I also always identified his feet. I thought his and my feet looked a lot alike. And I always cherished my feet for that reason. They reminded me of Reverend Suzuki. Those were two inappropriate, sensual memories I have of him. We all know that beautiful face. But the rest of him was just as beautiful. I suppose the men got to see him naked all the time. But we didn't. I loved that sneaked peek. I'm really grateful for it.
One time at Tassajara I decided not to go for lunch. The lunches were so endless and silent. I had Oreos or something, and I wanted to work on the thesis. So I didn't go. Seems to me we took a siesta cause it was so hot at Tassajara in the afternoon. Phillip came back. I said, "What did you all have for lunch?" "Oh, we had tempura for lunch. Shrimp tempura." Usually we had no meat at Tassajara at all. I thought it was really ironic. It was the one meal I ever missed. What happened was a member of Zen Center had come down to visit Reverend Suzuki and brought a gift. Japanese bring gifts as you know. A huge basket of shrimp. They'd gotten it in Monterey. They brought it down in the heat. There we were with a little moral dilemma. It was taken to Reverend Suzuki to resolve. He said, "Don't waste." So they cooked it. And they cooked it wonderful. They tempuraed it. It was a beautiful meal and a wonderful surprise. And I missed it. Wasn't that a wonderful decision of his? I wonder if anybody else remembers it? I think I remember it because I didn't eat it. Probably the people who ate it don't remember it.
DC: I'm sure I was there but I don't remember it.
JJ: I remember fighting those blue jays. And remember the delicious bread. And that was before the whole world was eating good bread. Remember we ate lunch outside under the trees at the tables. In silence. And they had those aggressive blue jays. They liked the bread, too. One time I found myself picking a piece of bread and a jay was on the other end of the bread. I wasn't going to let go. I didn't want that jay to eat that piece of bread. It was all in silence. It was so funny. It was a jay. I'm a double jay. They always had to call me twice, that's what they say in the family.
DC: I’m wondering when you and Phillip came together. You were with Phillip when he first studied with Suzuki.
JJ: Yes. We were married in '59. I don't remember when Phillip came to Suzuki first.
Phillip was caught up in the swirl of the '60s, feeling god knows what sort of desperation. He went down the yellow pages in the phone book and called all the different churches. Their secretaries answered. They said you could have a meeting with the minister on October 1 or something. They tried to make appointments. When Phillip called the Zen Center, Reverend Suzuki answered. He had just gotten here from Japan, as I remember. [no-a year or two later I think – DC] He had almost no English. He said, "Please come." That was what Phillip wanted to here. He didn't call any further. He had called them all. The fact is that Reverend Suzuki knew no other words in English Phillip was saying, "Blah, blah, blah." And Reverend Suzuki just said, "Please come," because that was really all he could. It was the perfect simple answer. So he came.
[Suzuki knew a lot of English but it wasn’t easy for him to use it, especially on the phone at first.-DC]
We were living on the Fillmore at the time. In an old movie house. Fabulous place. They knocked it down and put up some really boring houses. We lived at Fillmore and Sutter. Near the Zen Center. In the interim we moved -- it was always a push/pull between my schooling and Phillip's Zen. It depended if we had a car that was good enough. I was going to school at Berkeley. If we lived in Berkeley I could bike to school. And I was happy. But Phillip had to have a car that would get him to the Zen Center at the early hour they were meeting. We were born movers anyway so we would tend to spend one year in San Francisco and the next in Berkeley. Then came the collective living idea. I gave in once again. And lived there against my will, and learned a great deal.
I liked my own house about me. I had a lot of animals.
Zen Center was a factor in my life. For every couple I knew there, including the Kwongs, we had different ways of reacting. Dan Welch and his wonderful wife were very different in their way of being then. It caused terrible tensions in the marriages. Terrible push/pulls. Laura was famous -- Bill was talking and talking and talking and begging her to come to Zen Center. She was an executive. He was the first husband I ever met. He raised that fiendish little boy who was passionately in love with his mother. Always plotting ways to kill off Bill so he could marry her. Amazing little kid. I'll bet he's quite a man. Laura was working in the world. She had a really good job. She would come home and Bill would have dinner for her. That was unusual in the '60s. It made very good sense. With her kind of wonderful get out there and get it. They had been to school with Joan Baez. Bill had worked at Cost Plus and invented that beautiful calligraphy that was so much a part of them [Cost Plus]. So Laura finally came in and found time in her busy schedule to come to Zen Center. She came. She did zazen. She came back. She loved it. Bill was so delighted. Now every day we'll go to zazen together. He was arranging to get a babysitter to be with the kids so they could -- and Laura said, "Why are you doing that?" He said, "So we can go back again and do zazen." She said, "I don't need to do it more than once." It had happened. Why do it more than once? Why do it over and over again? There's an example of very different ways of taking Zen Center.
DC: Do you remember the first time you met Reverend Suzuki?
JJ: Not really. He was an enigmatic presence to me: very alien; very foreign; in that little room he hung out in. His office. I just figured he was the authority and he was probably in for me because I was a fake, a fraud while I was there. I was doing it for Phil, not for myself, or for enlightenment. It took me a long time working with Reverend Suzuki. I got more just being with him out of the zendo. Watching him bite into those cucumbers. My memories are not from the zendo as much, although god knows he was a presence.
There was a guy living with us who was deaf and doing zazen. He was a print setter. He'd been trained to do that for a living. He had to go to work early, so he had to leave zazen early. He had brought in with him a big alarm clock so he could see the numbers in the dark. He did not know, being deaf, how loud the clock ticked. We were all wondering if we could cope. Reverend Suzuki went over and picked up that clock and removed it from the zendo. It only happened once. He must have found a way of explaining things to this guy. It was wonderful the way he acted while the rest of us were trying to be politically correct.
The Beginner's Mind lectures that he gave were wonderful.
DC: In Palo Alto?
JJ: I thought we had them right up there. I never went to Palo Alto. He gave some kind of lectures here.
[I mean Palo Alto – DC]
DC: But Zen Mind Beginners Mind lectures were given in Los Altos and Marian Derby transcribed.
JJ: Well he probably gave the same old lectures up where we were. I began to finally get it. That Zen was not a religion. That none of this stuff in itself was wonderful. Everybody had their own way of sitting. There was Betty sitting in a chair because of her back. There were all these other ways.
There were the wonderful Saturday meals when we would fix udon. I'm still a devil of an udon maker and I learned it right there on Saturdays. Everybody with their own job, and how good it tasted. That was really fun. It was also a work day. I learned a lot from the work days. Gradually I just adjusted my expectations. And I got used to Reverend Suzuki's foreignness. That was nice.
I just began to get it. But I was a slow learner. I did not immediately fall in love with Reverend Suzuki. Also he was a little bit the enemy. Phillip was in his thrall so much. Or he was enthralled by him. I don't mean that it was Reverend Suzuki. It was probably a misunderstanding. But everybody was. So we were loyal antagonists for a long time. Probably almost to the end, really. He knew damned well I was working to rejoin the world. And Phillip was using him as a way of bolstering his commitment to some other world.
DC: Do you remember before his wife Okusan came?
JJ: Yeah. I thought she brought a lot of reality to him. Before that he was such a bachelor and a recluse. He spent a lot more time with the Japanese congregation. Understandably. When Okusan came I think that improved
DC: You think that improved his relationship with the Caucasian students?
JJ: I wonder. Some people felt that it didn't. They had more access to him before Okusan was there. But I understood her perfectly.
DC: Some people found her difficult?
JJ: I think so, don't you?
DC: Definitely. Not for me, not for you. But in Japan more so than America.
JJ: I didn't know that. I thought she was beautiful. She was sexy, too. They had a wonderful kind of Noah and his wife sort of a relationship.
DC: I always wondered if they ever had a physical relationship.
JJ: Who were those children?
DC: Those weren't hers.
JJ: Oh. She was a new one.
DC: They'd never lived together until she came to America.
JJ: I would say yes, myself. But I don't know what I'm basing that on.
DC: I came in '66. From what I saw they were grandparently. He was very busy with Tassajara and Zen Center's development. But who knows.
JJ: It's their business. I was back east teaching at Smith I guess. I wasn't around when they had that big benefit with Janis Joplin.
DC: That was the benefit at the Avalon Ballroom.
JJ: That was a big deal. But I wasn't there. I know that Reverend Suzuki did say [?] just like he said about the [?] it was a little too loud. I understood that he and Janis understood each other rather well. I'm trying to think where I got that. My role there was coming back from some other sphere and being told about it. That would be a good thing to put on your list of things to ask Phillip. How did that work with Janis. Somebody was running it. Phillip couldn't have set that whole thing going. Dick Baker. That was the kind of thing Dick would have done.
DC: I was involved with it too.
JJ: It was a big deal. I think Reverend Suzuki felt he was sort of along for the ride. That he was a figurehead. He was not sure that that aspect of Zen Center was the one that was going to survive, and it didn't. Zen Center, especially with Dick, became an extension of the extension school. [Richard Baker was involved with UC Extension in SF near where the present City Center of ZC is. He was working on conferences. – DC]
DC: Before Mitsu came, did you all spend much time at Sokoji? Did you hang out in the kitchen?
JJ: I didn't much. But I know other people did. Phillip may well have.
DC: Do you ever remember hearing about a woman who spent a lot of time taking care of him before Mrs. Suzuki came?
JJ: Yes. Who was that? A Caucasian woman. Phillip may remember. There was someone who was hanging in pretty close. I don't know who it was.
DC: Do you know anything about that? Some people were sort of concerned about it. The Japanese congregation was concerned. She was doing his laundry. She's the one who got him into long underwear. She wasn't involved in the practice. When Mitsu came she left.
JJ: I vaguely remember. I can't get her face back much less her name. Betty might have noticed.
DC: Nancy? I've talked to Betty and Della about it. Graham didn't know. Just curious.
JJ: You think of Gandhi having such a lady.
DC: Gandhi slept with young girls, which was a tradition in India.
JJ: He also had an older upper middle class American, or English, woman who hung in for all kinds of things. I just wonder if there are any parallels.
DC: I've never heard anything. If Suzuki Roshi ever had any hanky panky he was awfully discreet. I've never heard a whisper about it.
JJ: As you say he had so many other things to do. Phillip used to say - and maybe Otohiro [Suzuki’s younger son] spoke about this too -- that what he remembered was the picture of Reverend Suzuki during the war when they came to his little temple to take down the bell and melt it. Phillip would say Reverend Suzuki -- they took the photograph. He said it was the saddest face he'd ever seen in any human. It was the sadness for the war. To take a temple bell and turn it into an armament. That paradox. I don't know if I ever saw the photograph.
DC: Do you remember hearing anything about the death of one of his daughters?
DC: Do you know anything about his past?
JJ: I wish I did. Almost like I wanted to start him fresh over here.
DC: That's the way he felt too.
JJ: What about Jeanne Stern? Do you know who she is? I gave Graham her name and phone number. She was not a long term member of Zen Center, but she is so perceptive and so critical. Long dark hair. One of my best friends in the world. Phillip brought her. Insisted that she come. Felt that she needed it desperately. She was much younger than I. An undergraduate at Berkeley when I was there from '59 to '64. So it was around '62, '63. We weren't here in '59. We were just getting married.
DC: Everybody I talk to I note the people they remember.
JJ: '62 is what I would imagine. That story about the yellow pages I think is so moving. He was hunting for . . . and what he got was more than he deserved. To be put into a comparison and contrast with Dick Baker. I know Phillip is impossible, but Dick was something else. At one point -- cause Dick and I were so involved with the University of California -- we decided we should drive together because I didn't have a car and Dick did. We were going to car pool. I had some funky old car. My car one day and his the next. One day I knew we could never make it across the bridge together. It was chemical. It was before he and Phillip had come into conflict. If I didn't like all the people Phillip came into conflict with I would have very few friends. He had a gift for it. I don't have negative reactions to people. But something about -- I didn't think car pooling was such an intimate thing -- but it was totally clear to me that my day would be ruined if I had to drive with Richard. He felt the same way. That was the end. I never had any dealings with him. I liked his wife very much.
DC: Tell me about this conflict between Phillip and Dick? How did it start?
JJ: Part of it started by what seems an idiotic urge for democracy. All of a sudden Zen Center was getting organized. They got a president. The question was who was going to be president. Poor Reverend Suzuki. Phillip was very anti getting organized. Rules and regulations. Reverend Suzuki probably realized it was inevitable. Look at it now. At that time it went from being a pleasant little cushion on top of the world to being an organization like any other organization. Phillip had seen plenty of them. He had never benefited from them. It was not his way. He connected it with repression, etc. Phillip had a very different life. He was the youngest of three boys. They had done terrible things to him including peeing into his cereal and making him eat it. I don't think Phillip needed Dick Baker in his life. And everybody said to Phillip that it was inevitable and a good thing, it helps keep the finances, etc. Gradually he allowed himself to get carried along with it. But what happened was that he became, as I perceived it, and maybe I didn't get it right cause I wasn't there all the time, -- I think it was, in Jungian terms, that Phillip became a lightning rod for all the Zen paradox and the most impractical and the most mystical and the most funny. And Dick was the practical American man of business who knew how to run things in an equable [?] mood which Phil certainly did not. He gave his attention administratively and all that. One time when they decided to vote for that part of Zen, he did a terrible job. One thing he did was went to my family's house -- he must have been really desperate because they didn't like him that much either -- down in Vero Beach, Florida. My family spent the winters in Florida. We went down. I had to come back to school and Phillip just stayed on. This was when he was president.
DC: Zen Center being as small as it was then it just was not his trip.
JJ: Not his trip. There were a lot of things they needed his signature on. Things he needed to do. You couldn't fax him in those days.
DC: He followed Graham, I think.
JJ: I think so. And Graham [?] and in a colonial way. Then came Phillip. So I think they stopped him from being president. And with good reason. It was not agreeing with him. He was not coming through because he didn't approve of the job description. So out of dismay at how Phillip had failed them they turned to Dick. Reverend Suzuki had to choose that. It was a moment when he had to say Phillip no, Dick yes.
DC: Wasn't the president elected?
JJ: Yeah, but it needed some kind of okay from Suzuki. He came and talked to me about it. Dick didn't. He felt really bad, but he felt that for the other people at Zen Center it was necessary. For the organization. Phillip didn't seem to make it happen. I was Phillip's stand-in. They kept asking me to do things. Because I was there. We were living right across the street. It was awful. Phillip behaved badly. Dick was very ruthless about it. He thought it was a mess. And Zen Center would go downhill fast. Just goes to show, doesn't it? I thought it was exactly like a novel by George Eliot. Character. Right people at the right place. Wrong people at the wrong place. . . . organization when the termites begin to set in. I thought it was fascinating. I felt that in their choice of Dick over Phillip that they had been untrue to some basic essence of themselves. Not that I thought Phillip would do a good job. I didn't. But I just knew that -- that's not the way I would have written a novel. Neither of them. Both were wrong.
DC: Do you remember anything further in their relationship?
JJ: I'm sure there were terrible things that happened between them. I don't know them. And I'm happy I don't know them. Phillip will have to tell you that. It was knock down drag out. I don't mean that it got physical, but it was a psychic battle of two ways of life.
DC: What about Dick and Bill Kwong?
JJ: Bill was so (lost word: crappy?). I have to say. Maybe that was really Zen. But Bill was . . . I never heard an aggressive word out of him. And Phil was aggressive. Nothing ever passive-aggressive about that guy. So physical.
DC: Do you remember the point at which Bill went to Mill Valley?
JJ: That was a good solution. From having to share the space with Dick. The leadership space. Administration.
DC: I don't think it was administration. It was zendo ritual.
JJ: Zendo ritual. You're right. Suzuki was giving those wonderful dokusans [private interviews]. I forgot. I got to do that. That was cool. We sat around swapping recipes and having a great time, Reverend Suzuki and I. Everybody wondered what we were doing in there. We were having a nice little talk. Then he'd say I guess I'd better get back. Baker was doing those. He was being the interviewer like Reverend Suzuki. I don't know what year but I thought it was premature. When did Dick start doing that?
DC: As far as I know he started doing it after Suzuki died.
JJ: Maybe. I think he did some overflow with the earlier students -- the newer students.
DC: Right before Suzuki died. After he'd come back from Japan in '71. Well, that's the job description.
JJ: But boy I thought to myself I would not have gone in there to have dokusan with Dick Baker.
DC: But neither would Suzuki's peers go to him in Japan. He had no following in Japan.
JJ: Reverend Suzuki came to Smith College while . . .
End Side A
JJ: . . . a pain in the neck. Huge ego. Absolutely a spiritual person. And like Phillip. We could see those parallels.
DC: Where did you know her?
[I think this is Dorothy Schalk she’s talking about. She was around Zen Center for a while, maybe Tassajara. She started a sitting group on the East Coast. As I remember it, Suzuki had an idea to send Phillip to the East Coast to be a priest for Schalk’s zendo or Zen group. He did go but it didn’t last. I wonder what the heck was Suzuki thinking about. How could he think that Phillip would be able to do that? See the interview and other material on Phillip. – DC]
JJ: I taught at Smith College. Of course she quickly found out about my Zen connection. On the way back from Japan she stopped at San Francisco and Reverend Suzuki said, "Oh, by the way, go see JJ." And she did. She paced my wonderful apartment and said it would do very well for a zendo. And when was Phillip coming. She had this whole brilliant idea. Because Phillip was in Japan. He was to come back. That was '65. And I got a grant to go to Japan that summer from Rockefeller Foundation to go over and study and I did. It was wonderful. Again, what a gift from the Zen Center, from Phillip, that I would never have done on my own. I loved that spell of Japan. Like I had fallen for France when I was 16. It was great.
When Phillip finally worked his way to Smith about December, and he looked around, and he said, "The trees here seem kind of stunted." I knew we'd had it. I just started packing my bags. Then he and Dorothy met. Instant antagonism. Absolutely they couldn't have worked together if they were the last two people in the world. That was the end of that little wonderful plan for my life, to have everything in one place.
She was old. She was older than Marshall and Marshall was a million. He died at 89. I have his old bed.
DC: Well if he died at 89 last July, in '95. Then he would have been born in 1906. So in '66 he would have been 60.
JJ: That's right. He hadn't retired yet. She was older than he was. She would have been 65 or so. They adopted children. She adopted a child from Japan and brought him back. Write another book on Dorothy. She is fascinating. I dug her. The way I do Phillip. . . . But oh are they hard to live with. Very grey hair. Very New Englandy. She looked like a battleship. She was a wonderful woman. She was built natural, normal. Not as heavy as me. But not scrawny. Marshall was scrawny. But totally healthy. Ate nothing but vegetables he raised himself. Cool cook. I totally had a thing about Marshall. And I live now with a man almost Marshall's age, 84. The first time I went to Northampton with Jerome I didn't know what I was doing: I was saving Jerome from having to put up with Marshall or something crazy. The second time I got them together they adored each other. I'm glad before his death that Jerome and Marshall met.
So that was an odd thing. I go away to leave Zen Center behind. And Reverend Suzuki turns up on my doorstep the first fall I was there. In person. We had a great talk. I hope I wrote it down somewhere [where?]. I can't remember any of it. A lot was happening. The death of Bobby Kennedy. Civil rights. I was working. Fasting every Friday to get us out of Vietnam. I had a few other things on my mind. First year of teaching. Phillip was abroad.
DC: How did Phillip like Japan?
JJ: He starved. He lost so much weight. But he liked it. He tells a great story of opening the cupboards where all the futons were put and seeing all the young monks sitting in there smoking cigarettes. Imagine the fire hazard. They weren't supposed to smoke but they all did. In the futon cupboards. He said they had beautiful robes, things like birds on them, and they were all smoking. Knowing the Japanese, they go off to sleep at the drop of a hat.
DC: Tell me about Phillip's leaving Zen Center. Was he asked to leave? Did he decide to leave?
JJ: I think he'd become increasingly eccentric and addled by it all. We were together at that time. We lived together until I met Jerome. But we weren't very together. We were married 17 years and we were married in '59. He moved up here with me and we lived various places and finally bought a house. Partly cause he had fights with the landlords all the time. So he was getting kookier and kookier. I don't know if he was ever actually asked to leave Zen Center.
DC: I remember he was drinking a lot.
DC: You don't remember Phillip drinking?
JJ: No. His dad was an alcoholic and I thought he always kept pretty much away from it. He drugged a lot. I don't think he drank much.
DC: Maybe he did a little bit. That's what I remember. He drank at Tassajara when he was shuso. Not a lot. He broke every rule he could. Like he was god. Bob Halpern did the same thing. He wasn't a drinker at all. He drank to break the rules.
JJ: The one problem Phillip didn't have as an Irishman was drinking. He just didn't like it much. His mother must have conditioned him against it. But he did take every drug that was ever in the world. And broke my Warring blender with peyote buttons. He was very much a child of the '60s. I think he left because he realized that he and Dick could not inhabit the same place. And he didn't want to make Reverend Suzuki get an ulcer over having to choose between them. So he disappeared. I think that's what went on. He just knew he had to leave. He didn't want Reverend Suzuki to have to choose. Phillip was good at making exits.
I understood that when you went to Zen Center they made you sit that long long special sitting -- at Tassajara -- tangaryo. I did it. Everybody had to do it and I did it. It was a great experience. At the end I thought someone was going to tell me if I passed or not. And they laughed. Don't be silly, honey, by the time you finish tangaryo you know whether you should stay or not. That was true with Phillip. Nobody had to tell him to go. He figured out that he was more trouble than he was worth which is the lord's truth.
But I noticed -- Jeanne Stern would tell you that down in LA they had terrible trouble with their Zen center. It was a scandal.
DC: They had several waves of scandals with Maezumi.
JJ: So ours has been comparatively easy. But it must go with the territory. So I don't think that Phillip or Dick or anybody can be especially blamed. It happens.
I just remember those beautiful ladies coming to talk [to Dick?] What was it like to be a woman in Zen Center? It's fine with me cause my connection was directly with Reverend Suzuki and never with Dick or Yvonne or the heavies there. Reb. Anyway, Reverend Suzuki was so clear it was okay.