Zen and the Art of Zen and the Art of Books

Anything can be done gracefully. Consider: one can peel an orange such that the rind is removed in a single, spiraling helix of citrus. Or, one can carelessly stab at the rind with stubby fingers, extracting chunk by little chunk, ending up sticky and frustrated. Similarly, one can write a Zen and the Art of book using piercing wisdom to enlighten the reader on how a given hobby (archery, motorcycle maintenance), when done correctly, can unlock the secrets of the universe. Or, one can choose a hobby, throw together some potted wisdom, and trick the reader into thinking they have unlocked the secrets of the universe.

Of course, peeling an orange perfectly is a painstaking, arduous task. Gaining piercing wisdom can also be painstaking and arduous. Sure, if we had the time we’d all pick up an esoteric hobby and attain nirvana through our single-minded devotion to flower arrangement, or calligraphy,, but instead we have jobs, bills, and responsibilities. Thankfully, using my simple four-step process, you will be able to publish your very own Zen and the Art of book, without having to do all that annoying soul-searching and grueling transcendence.

Step 1: Declare the utter simplicity of your activity.

Many people mistakenly believe that enlightening hobbies must be complex. This is not the case. In fact, the simpler the activity the higher the potential for melding hobby, mind, and body into an all-encompassing-oneness. Why? Because universal secrets cannot be divulged by building exact replicas of all thirty Major League Baseball stadiums. That is just dorky. However, knitting, now that’s a hobby! All you have to do is instruct your reader to lose their ego in the repetitive action of needle and yarn, to blur the line between self and other such that there is no longer any separation between little Timmy’s socks and Auntie Ruth. You must write about how simple said hobby is, because said hobby is not the important thing here, the important thing here is the metaphor: knitting, crocheting, stamp collecting, is just like life!

Step 2: Declare the utter complexity of your activity.

Many people mistakenly believe that enlightening hobbies must be simple. But wait! Am I not contradicting myself? Well, no, because this contradiction is not only pre-meditated, it results in paradox, and paradox is the life-blood of these books. People go totally ape-shit for it. If it were really just as simple as becoming one with a random hobby, nobody would need your book. However, it is in stage two where you show the reader that no, building model cars is not just about becoming one with super glue and plastic (note: if you become one with super glue, contact a physician immediately), but it is about recognizing that in the act of building a model car you are actually deconstructing your own ego, that every creation is actually a destruction, that every birth comes with a life sentence, and so next time you glue a tiny little hubcap to a tiny little wheel, do so with the conviction of a God or Goddess building reality, because reality is what you make it, and you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Step 3: Resolve the paradox.

Of course, only those with a keen insight can truly understand the paradox, and thereby resolve it, attaining the highest hobby-chakra. Your reader is aware of this, and will be sucking at the teat of wisdom, nodding their heads and thinking, gee, I have pretty keen insight, I totally get what you’re saying, it’s simple, it’s complex, yin, yang, right on! Perfect. They are ready for the culmination, in which you resolve the paradox and blow their minds with your ridiculously good logic. Is kite flying simple or is it complex? Ha! Trick question. Simplicity and complexity are merely two points of view. How many points of view are possible? Three-hundred and sixty! All that talk about simplicity and complexity was merely to butter your reader up for the big revelation: kite flying is simple, it is not simple, it is both simple and not simple, and it is neither simple nor not simple! Just like life! (Note: exclamation points are the grammatical equivalent of mind-blowing!)

Step three is the big payoff, where the reader understands how misguided he or she was all along. Jewelry-making, pottery, knitting, are simply the most complex things you can do. Because it is only through hobbies like these that one can transcend the boring ol’ viewpoints of everyday life– I and you, simple and complex–and bask in the metaphorical liberation one has (not nearly) attained.

Follow my steps and you will see that writing a Zen and the Art of book is actually the easiest thing in the world, once you have given up all distinctions between easy and hard, teaching and tricking, and can rest in the middle of the circle, looking at all the viewpoints surrounding you, and shaking your head, gently, with a fake smile smeared across your all-knowing face.

Step 4: Rake in the cash.

But this is the main reason you are smiling.

Alex Tzelnic is a writer in Cambridge, MA. He enjoys Zen practice and going on ill-advised motorcycle pilgrimages. His latest such pilgrimage, a 10,529 American criss-crossing that he undertook this summer, can be found at jnymen.com.