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Nona Ransom main page

2-25-11 - Dealing with the Details of this Archive

Looking for more references to Nona Ransom, I remembered that Brian Power (RIP) had told me over the phone from England in the mid nineties that she was a teacher of his in Tientsin in China in the 30s or so. As I recall he said she was rather strict. He had a photo of her I think in his book on the last emperor of China, Puyi. In looking for that book in the bibliography on this site I couldn't find it so I went to a file of Crooked Cucumber itself and it was in the bibliography there along with another book that had somehow slipped out of the bibliography when it was included here. So now they're both here on cuke in the main and original bibliographies. Only took twelve years to correct that error.

Power, Brian. The Puppet Emperor. Universe Books, 1988.

Uchiyama, Kosho. The Zen Teaching of "Homeless" Kodo, Kyoto Soto Zen Center, 1990.

Power got me in touch with Mrs. Daphne Woodall, the widow of the headmaster of the British School in Tientsin and I have a vague memory of there being some notes or correspondence with her. Maybe I'll come across those when I get back to the States and try to finish going through and digesting and disposing of all my notes and stuff. The level of priority, of importance, of such notes is surely in the minus category, only being attended to out of demented compulsion. The way I look at it is that I don't want to think too much about what's important, just get it all down to be sorted and sifted by self and others later. But really this is so obviously only of trivial value for those of us who wallow in trivia. To me, every detail of Suzuki's life is of no real significance, just a piece of a puzzle I've been putting together for years for want of anything better to do. It's starting to turn out like one of those puzzles that are all white.

On the other hand, maybe I'll stumble across more teaching stories that might be of value to some. I see it like mining - going through lots of dirt and rock to find an occasional nugget, but having been a miner for so long I can't tell the difference anymore. It might be cabin fever. Another idea is to get this stuff all down and then go through the lectures to get them in better order and see what comes of that. Will probably do these simultaneously or at least overlappingly. Or maybe I won't get to it all. No matter. Enough has been done, enough is preserved for a while, until its wave of annihilation sweeps by. Till then I've got something to do.

I am reminded of an exchange during a talk I gave at Baker Roshi's center, Johanneshof, in the Black Forest of Germany. I was just telling about the history of working with the Suzuki lectures and stories and all and someone said something about how they appreciated my devotion to Suzuki Roshi. I said, oh no, it's not devotion. I'm not a devotional type. It's compulsion. I remember Nicole turning to me and asking if I really wanted her to translate that. Yes I did.

Pardon me for writing more of myself but in the interest of casting light on what's behind all this, I remember now, years before I had begun this work or gone to Japan, about 1980 I think, Baker Roshi was giving a Sunday talk at Green Gulch and for some reason used me as an example of a point he was making and said that my practice was like some guy in Buddha's day whose practice was to cover every leaf of a tree with sesame seeds. I thought, yeah, that's right.

It's maybe a gene. I'd say David Schneider has it - now he's got a book on Philip Whalen (Crowded by Beauty) as well as Issan Tommy Dorsey (Street Zen). When David first came to the SFZC, or when I first remember him coming, I was work leader at the City Center and immediately saw in him an admirable and useful organizing energy. While others might be content to sweep again where it didn't need sweeping, David wanted to organize things that needed organizing. He knew it and I knew it and I was delighted to have him. I didn't have to tell him anything - just let him have at it. He started off by organizing all the cleaning closets and labeling where each broom and rag would go. And his signs were each a work of art, for David was a graduate of Reed College (like Whalen and Gary Snyder and Rick Levine) and had studied with master calligrapher Lloyd Reynolds. I remember other officers bringing up in a staff meeting that maybe this wasn't good for his practice and wouldn't it be better for him to be working with older students chopping vegetables or dusting. I assured them that I was working closely with him and monitoring his practice carefully. Before I'd lost him to whatever he went to next, everything in the building that could be labeled was, his crowning achievement being the giant boiler in the basement, the many knobs and dials of which were no longer a mystery, each with its purpose clearly explained by a hanging, calligraphed card.

The final image of this essay is from Stephen King. I think it was in the rather deliciously fiendish movie Pet Cemetery, and I am tempted to read the book just to explore the depths of this image further, where in some dream sequence that kept recurring, someone, the author I assumed, was in a towering archive full of dusty old manuscripts and papers on shelves and he would be carrying armloads and pushing a wheelbarrow full of these papers, taking them down to - a fire maybe, it's been a while - to dispose of them. It had a Sisyphean endlessness to it - trudging with the burden of the notes he'd collected, determined to get rid of them all.

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