americanzen is a fictional blog about an American named “Zen”. It is fictional because I, the writer, subscribe to that notion that writing can never be a substitute for reality. Accordingly, even the most accurate “historical record” is fictional. In fact, the most plain jane document in black and white is not even a splinter of reality. In my humble opinion, understanding reality requires innumerable such written documents, personal interviews, video ethnographies, symposiums, etc. etc. The blog is a sober reflection, an earnest addition to the mosaic of life, but things will get zany. A sense of humor is required. So, while I do describe many real, true situations, I embellish, add details that did not occur, or just plain fabricate (i.e. lie). I do this to protect people’s identities, but also as artistic license to add drama or comedy or even beauty, and finally because occasionally the blog will veer off to fantasical realms before drifting back to the “real” world most of us recognize and are comfortable with.
The title is derived from two main founts. First, Zen, the fictional narrator, given voice by me a flesh and blood man, is an American citiZEN, and will display many of the idiosyncrasies and concomitant strengths and weaknesses unique to that nation. Being an American is one of my skins, my socio-cultural skin, and despite my specious attempts to slough off this skin, I am inescapably grounded in the values of this nation-state. Some may experience a knee-jerk antipathy to this statement, but really, part of being an American is to begin from one place, perhaps a far-off country, and to come to this region and adopt its style of living, augmenting one’s values, tinkering and adjusting, until one surpasses one’s self, and metamorphoses into something different, even entirely different. Paradoxically, to be American is to be more than just American. This is something that many other citizens of the world tend to neglect. When they meet us, they find us queer, alarming, disarming, unique, mercurial, staunch, plastic; in a word: individuals. No doubt this phenomenon is not unique to that continent.
Secondly, the blog explores Zen the religion, but it does so obliquely, probing gently the fertile, frustrating dynamic between its Buddhist’s precepts and the often contrary norms and mores shared by a man raised in America. The setting is appropriately in China with many flashbacks to America. The interplay between cultures provides ample opportunities to examine common challenges and trials that are the lot of humanity. Being Zen is about peace and harmony. Being American is often the contrary. The former advocates for universal compassion; the latter is often a molten cauldron of violence, its fiery warlike condition often nurturing a hotbed of creativity and innovation, but too often equated with the opposite of its cherished ideals enumerated in the noble Bill of Rights. How to harmonize the best qualities of both is one of the major themes of the blog. Then, as China is quickly, perhaps too quickly, assuming a place as a Superpower, the blog explores timely issues salient to Americans and Chinese and perhaps even all denizens of the world as these two great nations perform a new dance on the world stage.