To Daniel on Editorial Conflicts and Personal Boundaries
23 January 2015
I’m going to try to keep my response to you at a very high level. After all, I don’t feel that the frustration energy you have been projecting onto me over the past few days, perhaps not insignificantly after you grappled with your personal narrative, has much, if anything, to do with my perfectly reasonable clarifying queries about your subjhana notation system. In fact, I think it has little or nothing to do with me at all. But I’ll let you sort whether that is true on your own.
Clarifying Your Full Notation System
No one has asked you to “dumb down” your notation system or anything else. You admitted to having been very “loose” instead of consistent with the letters you chose to use for the states and stages. How am I supposed to know whether or not you were similarly loose in oscillating between what appears to be two (three?) different notation systems for two different vipassana stage models—unless I ask?
After running a bit of a focus group of diehard DhO fans of yours, I had from them a handful of questions and concerns that you can certainly choose to flat-out ignore. You can choose to dismiss me, Devin, Eric, and Tom Tom as softcore unmasterful meditation slackers who don’t deserve your hand up or help. That’s fine, and I wish you well in finding and reaching a more worthy audience of practitioners without the grace of an editor to advocate for the community of readers. Without me, you have only your own isolated, calcified judgment, with no feedback or reality testing of your teaching skill, but only replay of your own opinions about how far the reader should have to come up to meet you—even established DhO members such as the ones I just named, even the person who is trying to make all this more teachable.
Reader’s Comprehension as Opposed to Your Personality Projection
On the phone the other night, after all we, mainly I, went through to improve Part I, you lamented that you prefer your flat “laundry list” of little disconnected sections, with the B-movie transitions, to the much more sophisticated layering and nesting of paragraphs within subsections, subsections within sections, sections within chapters, and chapters within parts that I so painstakingly accomplished. People have expressed no less than astonishment to me over how much this “layering” of thought has brought the subtleties of your dharma teaching to the fore of Part I. They’ve stated how much clearer this edition is than the last. This reaction is absolutely of no surprise to me at all.
Mature writers are those who have mastered the layering of thoughts. Their sentences will involve more subordination than and-linked coordinated sentences; their structures will have more than one flat layer of fragmented sections merely pretending to be effective “chapters.” Layering of thought aids comprehension and retention. Low-brow chattiness for the sake of preserving your “voice,” which is to say, your personality, in no way aids in comprehension or retention. I saw this book a year ago as a diamond in the rough, and I vowed to reach out to you and make it shine, for the benefit of all beings, even some of the slackers, which you’ve made clear below that you think I, Devin, Eric, and Tom Tom are.
I know full well that you are a master of meditation and a master of the practice of medicine. But hear and register this: I’m am many, many times more the masterful writer than you are. If you were in one of the many freshman writers in one my college classes, you would be put through your paces to a degree that would shock you, let me tell you. I love your personality, even with all its grandiosity, outbursts of punitive harshness, double standards, and goofy quirks. However, hear this, too: You need to get the fuck out of your own way. You need to step aside a bit in this book so that the dharma you have to teach can shine through without all these obfuscating Daniel-personality filters. You say you are interested in quashing projection and the cult of personality. I challenge you to prove it by dealing somehow with your vey obtrusive feelings of possessiveness over this book. It isn’t you or yours, after all, is it? Or is it?
Sequencing of Chapters and Parts
Another thing you said on the phone to me, quite vehemently, was that you don’t feel chapters need to approximate the same length. Nor do you feel, I guess, that a part consisting of only one chapter is at all ridiculous, though it is. When I cite to you the conventions that compose this cultural construct called “books,” editorial style, and writing, your defense is, “I don’t feel particularly bound by convention.” I don’t know how to advise, reach, or help an author who clings to such emphatically unhelpful rejection of the reader’s needs in the name, again, of projecting his own personality through his material. Writing is convention itself. It is the least spontaneous and least “emotionally honest” thing on earth, if it is at all effective.
Why write in paragraphs? Why not get a butcher roll of paper and spew one long undifferentiated column of “personality” down the middle? Why not doodle all over it, too? Wouldn’t that feel “fun” and liberating to you? Maybe. Would it help the greatest number of sentient beings to awaken? I highly doubt it, as few are going to slog through the results of such a self-indulgent authorial undertaking.
Now, when I tell you that, ideally, chapters should approximate the same length, be bundled, layered, and thematized, I’m giving you my best advice, based on my 10 years mastering narratology and rhetoric at the PhD level, and my subsequent 15 years as a rapidly promoted, multi-award-winning senior editor. I’m not just making this shit up, believe it or not. By this point in a relationship with an author, I’m no longer having to throw the book at him and convince him that there is some industry and learned standard for what I’m recommending. By this point, he clearly sees the value in what I’ve done, has developed some basic trust in my intelligence, sensitivity, and camaraderie, and doesn’t use our working relationship and my vulnerabilities as a projection ground for his own insecurities and contradictions.
You stated to me the other night, in a sudden fluster, that you want “Shadow and Light” (“Light and Shadow”?) back where it was—this after I asked you twice whether you were okay with running the experiment of bundling it with the path models. Then, during that call, you took issue with my leaving the path models out of a part calling itself “Mastery of Practice.” Daniel, everything can be “Mastery of Practice.” Shall be put all the chapters into one gigantic part and call it “Mastery”? No, of course not. After all, the title of the book is “Mastering,” so that umbrella is already open and functioning to cover the whole book. The terms we are separating, however artificially, are “practice” and “theory.”
Again, dividing and naming chapters and parts is artificial. We simply need to give the reader a psychological break every 100 pages or so to integrate what has been covered. This is just the verified cognitive-behavioral constraints of book reading, comprehension, and retention.
So, thinking about all those models, mainly ones you trounce, I reasoned that the ranty tone of “Shadows and Light” and the ranty tone of those rejected path models are tonally connected and therefore belong together. Moreover, it seems to me, in terms of content, that there is a connection, isn’t there, between the idealized models and the hyper-psychologized mode of what passes under the name of contemporary Buddhism? I have a very intense gut feeling that these separate pieces would inform each other beautifully and profitably if they were bundled together under one overarching part title, whatever that title may be. Whether that resulting part should be Part II or Part III remains to be seen and decided, but in writing you do the bundling and thematizing first, and then the sequencing next. Intros and finalizing titles are last. Why you are suddenly so nervous about everything I don’t know, but all this seemed occasioned by the Quest work.
You protested to me over the phone that no one can master practice without the path models and that, therefore, the “Mastery of Practice” part must include the path models. I still don’t understand what you mean, except that I guess everything in the world potentially informs “practice.” Maybe the whole book should be a single “part.” Still, you have made it clear to me and to Devin that there is no such thing as “a path-appropriate way of practicing” (your very words). So the path models are part of the culture and theory of attainment, not direct practice. This may not be true in some absolute sense, but the differentiation seems more than adequate to support a book part division.
Now, you have been what appears to me to be very inconsistent on this point of paths’ informing practice specifics. In the Hurricane Ranch talks, there is this:
KENNETH: “So would you say that each path has its own logic of getting the thing done”?
DANIEL: “Yes. Absolutely.”
So which is it, Daniel? Is counting paths important to tweaking practice, or is it not? You just posted out to the DhO the thread “4th and the Whole Thing,” which apparently was sent out only to those who think they have gotten or are about to get 4th. And you bristle that “Everyone forgets my Simple model.” When I reply, “Well, you yourself question us and post in terms of the Revised Four-Path model.” Your response to that is what? “I do that only because that is how everyone talks out on the DhO.” Please, come on! Don’t give me that. You are the leader and teacher here. Have you ever posted under the auspices of the Simple model? Even once? If the Simple model is your priority model, then declare it so everywhere and be consistent in promoting it instead of confusing by spending most of the time supporting the Revised Four-Path model.
If the Revised Four-Path model is good only for assessing first and fourth paths, then maybe you need to have the guts to revise again down to a Two-Path model. At the very least, you need to explain to us middle-path people just what the deal really is. When should we consult/ignore which model?
All the frigging models have problems, all of them, including that Simple one. That’s my opinion. None of them match the wide variance in what apparently happens across advanced practitioners. How in the world is any of them helping my practice?
So these path models—to my mind and from what you wrote to me personally—they are theory, not practice. They belong in a Culture and Theory part of the book.
The other night on the phone you uttered something that hurt my feelings, on top of the litany of challenges you hurled, albeit quite belatedly, at all the work I’ve done on Part I. You said,
“Well, you can do what you want when you write your own book.”
Considering that I’ve donated considerable effort and time away from my family, my own meditation practice, my sleep, my paid work, my exercise needs, my healing during illness, and all manner of relaxation and recreation for a book that bears your name and not my own, and which furthers my personal agendas and status in no way, that sort of hurtful remark is overly defensive, is meant emphatically only to sting me, and is therefore morally unskillful.
I was very ill for more than a week. You twice pressed me to Skype for 2.5 hours while I was sick in order to go through some exercise that you seemed to feel would help with the memoir but that I didn’t get a sense helped at all. Now, okay. I granted you this long chat, though it ran over something else I had told you I had planned to do with my husband that night at 9 p.m., and even though I was sick as a dog and not able to mentally process things well. Do you know how you characterized this Skype session to me when you pressed me for it? You said this would be “fun” for me, as if you were granting me a special favor in granting me an audience.
Your lecturing me—ever—on my proper motivations, insisting that I do this work “for the community” and not even a little bit for you, presumes that you are morally superior to me and entitled to lecture me on and constrain my generous actions in terms of motivations precisely in line with your own motivations. And what are your motivations in thus lecturing me? Clearly, it is so you will owe me not a thing, no gratitude, or even heartfelt personal acknowledgment. So our Skype sessions aren’t to help you, but to dispense me a little “fun” because I get to converse with you about you!
You do owe me basic courtesy, if not gratitude, Daniel. You owe it to me to stop hurting my feelings and treating me callously. You should at the very least have me write a signed editor’s preface to the book so there is that acknowledgment of all that I’ve put into this. You and I should stop pretending that I’ve done nothing for “you,” when I have done plenty for you, including continuing to think of you as my friend when you have hurt my feelings deeply more than once and ignored much of what I’ve wanted to talk about from time to time, ignoring questions asked several times, rather passive-aggressively. You enforce status all the time. Think about it.
So these are my boundaries, since I assume you aren’t the only one who gets to set and enjoy boundaries, as presumptuous as that might be of me. If we can clear this cyclical shit up and out and move on again with the work before us, very good and I’m willing. If you think I’m spoiling your precious lifework and you prefer to put it out there “as is,” without benefit of someone advocating for your potential readers at all, on the basis that you alone know what is best on every single axes of intellectual development, then that is your decision, with all its attendant risks, and I wish you well.